Asthma, Children and Winter

BY ON December 6, 2011

Kids in winter with sled

Winter is a tough time for children with asthma. As the temperature drops and kids are more exposed to colds and flu germs at school, the opportunity for asthma to be triggered greatly increases. And don’t forget stress. The stress and anxiety of the winter holidays can be a profound trigger that is often ignored, especially in children.

A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2005, called the steep increase in asthma emergencies in the fall the “September epidemic,” because researchers found what was already widely acknowledged among health care professionals: fall and winter are allergy and asthma high-alert, high-incidence periods.

3 Ways Winter Is Tough on Kids With Asthma and Their Families

1. Kids are indoors and exposed to more germs and pollutants.
2. Kids with asthma miss more school in the colder months.
3. There are more emergency room visits from asthma suffers.

What Doctors Say About Asthma In Winter

If there is ever a time to be extra careful about day-to-day asthma maintenance, winter is that time. Doctors agree that the key to a successful episode-free winter is symptom control. They suggest to minimize exposure to triggers and to become more vigilant about taking asthma medications. But asthma triggers are not completely within the sufferer’s control. Even when a parent is diligent about germ control—like getting everyone in the household flu shots, and being careful about environmental irritants such as using low allergy cleansers and household products; doctors strongly recommend being especially diligent about sticking to prescribed medication regimens.

My Family Suffers In Winter

I am noticing in our household, my two most sensitive sufferers seem to be in a constant sensitized state, with asthmatic episodes easily triggered. They seem to trade off with fits of coughing and wheezing-like a tag team.

When my daughter returned to Houston from school (in college, she was not suffering from any asthma symptoms), it took three weeks at home for the wheezing and coughing to show up. When she went to the doctor, I was floored by the price list for the medications she needed. FLOORED! For families who do not have insurance or who have policies that do not cover all of those meds, they are between a rock and a hard place. They have to choose between expensive medications (more expensive than gold, according to this blogger), and the cost of emergency rooms, doctor visits and work time off. In reality, households with asthma pay handsomely.

The Hidden Costs Of Asthma In Winter

Often when the weather is warm, a child with asthma feels consistently better. The parents may move away from regular use of their child’s medications. The expense of medications has a lot to do with the decision by many to take a break from medicines, or to take less. This decision can have dire consequences, especially come winter.

No family should have to sacrifice the health of a chronically ill child when asthma is an absolutely controllable disease with the proper treatment. Yet, many families do. Families don’t just pay with cash for expensive meds and additional doctor and specialist visits, they pay the price with their overall health. For example, kids with asthma are more prone to obesity, which for some may mean they have to stay indoors and sit out activities.

Some families rely on over-the-counter medications that are less costly than prescription asthma meds. While others may use a combination of prescribed and OTC meds. But there are dangers for people with asthma who use OTC medications. Experts say decongestants can dry out the bronchial passages and worsen asthma symptoms. This WebMD article, says some decongestants can cause heart palpitations when used in conjunction with bronchodilators (or the medications in inhalers). Also, certain anti-inflammatory drugs can worsen asthma symptoms. Parents should confer with their doctors before giving asthmatic children cold or flu medications. What might seem like an easy cost-saving measure could end up being a risky and very expensive pharmaceutical lesson.

I spoke to one veteran pediatrician who lamented that the low-income families (who often live in the most toxic sections of town) just didn’t seem to get the importance of careful maintenance. When pressed about it, she admitted that a big part of their resistance is that they know they can not afford a full medication plan–not even in the short-term.

According to this Tennessee state health report, the annual direct cost of asthma in the US is approximately $11.5 billion. The indirect costs (such as productivity) add another $4.6 billion, totaling $16.1 billion per year. Prescription drugs represent the single largest indirect cost at $5 billion.

How And Where To Get Help

  •  Partnership for Prescription Assistance can help those without prescription drug coverage who qualify, get the medicines they need for free or nearly free. They offer a single point of access to more than 475 public and private programs, including nearly 200 offered by pharmaceutical companies.
  • RxAssist offers a comprehensive database of patient assistance programs
  • Bridges to Access  and GSK access are GlaxoSmithKline’s patient assistance programs. This is an important resource for asthma patients needing the pricey Advair, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. (GSK access is for Medicare patients)
  • Healthwell Foundation is a non-profit organization established to assist individuals with insurance who cannot afford their co-payments, coinsurance, and premiums for important medical treatments.
  • Genentech’s Xolair Assistance Programs is for folks who are prescribed the expensive medication, XOLAIR. The manufacturer has several programs to help the uninsured (XOLAIR Access Solutions and Genentech Access to Care Foundation) and those who need help with co-pays (XOLAIR Debit Card Program).
  • If you find you can no longer afford medications for yourself or your child, BEFORE you stop taking your meds, ask your doctor or a hospital social worker for options. Hospital social workers are equipped to help you find grants and other resources to cost-free or reduced medicines.

At Mom’s Clean Air Force, we know that the effort to keep our children healthy involves many facets—some of those are within our control; some are not. Clean air for our kids is not outside of our sphere of influence. This is why we press on to inform parents. We tell legislators that we expect them to act on our behalf to support clean air laws, and we that we will hold polluters responsible. This effort is as important as securing the right asthma medications and clearing our homes of toxic cleansers.

Join MCAF and let your voice be heard!

TOPICS: Asthma, Economics, Pollution, Social Justice