Hospital ERs Treating More Children With Asthma As Temperatures Cool
Fall ushers in cooler temperatures and beautiful foliage but for children with asthma, it is also a time that they get sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 12 children has asthma and it hits African American children especially hard.
On a Monday afternoon in early October, two-year old Kamaya Lewis sat up in a bed breathing through a mask in the emergency room of UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Doctors said she was suffering from a severe asthma attack and it took several hours to treat her symptoms.
“When Kamaya showed up she was very sick. We were aggressive in treating her wheezing,” said Dr. Haitham Haddad, Medical Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at University Hospitals.
Kamaya was one of two severe asthma cases treated that day, he said.
There are many things that can trigger an asthma attack including dust, mold, dander from animals, insects and plant allergens. But viruses are the primary trigger in early childhood, Dr. Haddad said.
“Over the last couple of months we’ve seen higher number(s) of wheezing episodes related to a specific strain of an internal virus,” he said.
Kamaya’s mother, Sharmain Singleton, sat by her daughter’s side on the hospital bed, hugging her as she received the albuterol asthma treatment.
Kamaya has been hospitalized several times with severe asthmas problems, said Singleton. She was in the intensive care unit at UH for three days in September.
It is hard to watch her baby in distress, Singleton said.
“Yeah, having a hard time breathing. I’d rather take the pain you know,” she said.
Asthma is the most common chronic lung disease among children in the U.S. according to the CDC. It causes swelling of the airways during an attack making it difficult to breathe.
In Cuyahoga County, some 18,000 kids suffer from asthma, according to the America Lung Association. Black children are two times more likely to have asthma than white children, according the CDC.
Seventeen-year-old Mary McCornell, who is bi-racial, also has asthma. McCornell’s disease is so severe that she visits the doctor every two weeks for a special shot to keep it under control. She says environmental factors where she has lived made it more difficult to control her asthma.
“When you live in a place like Cleveland, you're going have a lot different problems than let's say a white child that lives in a middle-class neighborhood,” McCornell said.
“Like there's always somebody smoking outside. There's always some trash in the street. So it might take more for me to feel better,” she said.
There are no clear answers about why asthma rates are more prevalent in African Americans but some of theories focus on obesity, poverty, environmental factors, poor housing stock and genetics, said Dr. Kristie Ross, a pediatric pulmonologist at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.
“One of the challenges in studying asthma is that it's not a single disease so there are lots of different types of asthma,” said Dr. Ross.
“Some people have asthma that's very allergic in nature. Other people have asthma that is really more related to activity. They primarily are triggered when they are exercising,” she said.
While asthma cannot be cured, it can be managed.
McCornell’s doctors tried many other options to control her asthma and keep her out of the hospital before trying the bi-weekly shot, said pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Erica Roesch.
“We were trying to treat her with inhaled steroids -- really being aggressive about her allergies which is a major component of her asthma and still being really unsuccessful in getting things under control,” Dr. Roesch said.
McCornell has been taking the special shot for over a year and it has improved her breathing, said Roesch said.
Before she felt bad all the time and could barely climb a flight of stairs. Now with the shots her quality of life is much better, McCornell said.
“I don’t know the exact science of everything that’s in it but it feels like it was the extra kick that I needed because the albuterol and the different daily inhalers I was on wasn’t enough,” she said.