Pandemic Brings Dramatic Drop in Asthma Hospitalizations, Study Finds

COVID-19 precautions prevented more children from going to the emergency room for asthma in the local area this past year, according to a study by Children's National Hospital

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The pandemic kept many local children with asthma out of hospitals, according to a study by Children’s National Hospital in D.C.

There’s been a 75% drop in emergency room visits and hospitalizations among local children with asthma this fall, the study found.

“It is very stressful to have a child with asthma even when you have access to great hospitals and doctors and resources and (are) able to manage it,” said Kate Davidoff, whose 3-year-old son Andrew used to rely on a nebulizer and steroids to control his asthma when he got sick. “It is a lot of stress on parents and the children to be sick all the time.”

But for Andrew, last year was different. COVID-19 restrictions and school closings kept him in a protective bubble with his parents and baby sister inside their home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

His family said the lockdown helped keep him healthy — and that he’s not alone.

“The most common trigger for childhood asthma exacerbations is just the common cold,” said Dr. William Sheehan, an allergy and immunology physician at Children’s National Hospital. “And those have certainly reduced in the last nine months with social distancing, masks, children staying away from each other and obviously virtual learning.”

Sheehan said this is certainly welcome news, but with it comes drawbacks. The children who were taken to the hospital had more severe symptoms, with parents potentially delaying medical care during the coronavirus.

“Children reporting to the ER with an asthma exacerbation were more likely to be hospitalized for their asthma,” Sheehan said. “It could be they’re afraid to come to the hospital … It could also be a false sense of security where they were a little lax on their medication because they’ve been doing so well during the spring and summer of 2020.”

Now as more schools reopen, Sheehan urges families to stay on guard and continue any preventative medications and treatments to help their kids breathe easy as spring approaches.

“It’s hard to see any silver lining from the pandemic, but there's been a lot of stress over the last year, and not having to stress about asthma is just one thing less to worry about,” Davidoff said. “I think for older kids, where not going to school presents different tradeoffs and can be more of a challenge, but for his age, not being in that school setting … It did provide a lot of relief for us.”

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