By Ernie Mundell and Cara Murez HealthDay Reporters
FRIDAY, Dec. 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — For kids with asthma, more time spent at home and donning masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be providing a reprieve from emergency symptoms, new research shows.
Boston Children’s Hospital’s emergency department (ED) observed a steep decline in asthma-related emergency visits last spring. That coincided with a surge of coronavirus cases amid a lockdown ordered by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on March 24.
“Our most significant finding was the drastic, sudden drop in ED visits shortly after schools closed and the stay-at-home order went into effect,” said study author Dr. Tregony Simoneau, assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. “How this drop was sustained over several months is quite notable.”
Why the big drop? One expert unconnected to the study offered some possible reasons.
“Viral illnesses are likely the most significant trigger of asthma exacerbations,” noted Dr. David Fagan, vice chair of Pediatric Administration-Ambulatory General Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
“Given the lockdown, with schools closing and families staying home, we witnessed a sudden steep decline in cases of [non-COVID] viral illnesses such as influenza,” Fagan said. “So with decreased transmission of viruses one might expect a decrease in exacerbations.”
Allergens in the air are another potential trigger for asthma attacks, he added. “Again, because of mask wearing, social distancing, we had a very mild to nonexistent spring allergy season,” Fagan noted, and that might also have helped kept asthma flare-ups at bay.
In the new study, published online Dec. 4 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the Boston team tracked the medical records of children and young adults age 2 to 22 who visited the hospital’s emergency department for asthma treatments from Jan. 5 to May 23 in three separate years: 2018, 2019 and 2020.
In the Boston area, the stay-at-home order this year closed schools, day care centers and afterschool programs. For the study, researchers separated Jan. 5 to March 21 and March 22 to May 23 into “pre-shutdown and “post-shutdown” categories.