For the last 10 years of my life, I have been researching the history of asthma in Black America to better understand the origins of the asthma epidemic. While a lot of my work is historical — meaning that I examine the medical, cultural, and political perceptions of race and asthma in the 19th and 20th centuries, and don’t really study current developments in asthma research — I am driven by a desire to inform health policy to reduce the impact of asthma on Black communities. So when Med-IQ, an accredited medical education company that provides education for healthcare professionals, reached out to partner with me on a campaign to talk about asthma and how people with asthma can work more closely with their healthcare providers to manage their symptoms, I had to be involved!
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by bronchial spasms which cause difficulty breathing. For most people, asthma is mild and controlled — they might need an inhaler every once in a while, especially if they over-exert themselves physically or are in an allergic environment. However, if someone has more persistent symptoms, meaning that they need to use their inhaler more than a few times a week, but is still having asthma attacks, it is considered severe asthma. If you’re asthmatic and your asthma is poorly controlled — your daily activities are limited, you’re waking up in the night, etc — it is recommended that you see an asthma specialist to better manage your symptoms.
What are the barriers to asthma care?
Now saying that people with severe asthma should go see a specialist, without talking about some of the different factors that prevent access to or seeking out asthma care, essentially goes against everything I believe in as a historian of public health and medicine. Social determinants of health — things like race, socio-economic status, the neighborhood you live in, etc — all contribute to a number of health disparities, including asthma. Asthma overwhelmingly affects Black and Latinx communities as factors such as increased exposure to air pollution, less financial and social capital, lack of trust and cultural competency between patients and providers, and medical racism all work together to not only make asthma more prevalent in certain communities, but to also make asthma care more difficult to access for some people.
What can you do to better manage your asthma?
Even though there are barriers to equitable asthma care, most of which have nothing to do with you as an individual, there are a few things that you can do to better advocate for yourself and receive better asthma care. First and foremost, it is of paramount importance to approach your asthma management as a joint effort between you and your provider. If you’re not comfortable with your primary care provider or asthma specialist, then find someone you’re comfortable with! A good relationship with a provider whom you can trust, respect, and openly communicate with is essential. Your provider can better help you understand how asthma impacts your body, and how you can use different therapies to control it.
Secondly, taking your asthma medication regularly, even when you’re feeling well, will actually help improve your asthma over time. Most asthma medication prevents inflammation of your airways, reducing the likelihood of flare ups and attacks. So more like sunscreen and less like aloe gel — you want to use it before you feel shortness of breath (or in my beach analogy, before you get a sunburn) as a protective measure. If you have an issue with your current treatment regimen, talk to your doctor about it. Maybe your corticosteroid has an unpleasant side effect that a similar, but just as effective treatment doesn’t have. Rather than not taking your meds, your provider can provide different options.
Thirdly, it’s important to really know what kind of asthma you have, and if you have asthma at all! If your asthma is severe and you are not responding to treatment, you might actually have something else that isn’t asthma. Or perhaps you need a slightly higher dose of steroids and/or bronchodilators. If none of these work, an allergist or pulmonologist might be able to provide some answers, and introduce you to new treatments that specifically target severe asthma — there are five newer biologic therapies available, but if you haven’t seen a specialist in a while (or ever), you might not even know that you’ve got other options outside of your inhaler.
Wait, but what can I do right NOW for my asthma?
Unfortunately, seasonal allergies, flu season, and COVID-19 can all exacerbate asthma symptoms, so it’s important to have an asthma treatment plan in place. Now is a great time to schedule an appointment with your doctor — or find a new one if your doctor isn’t doing it for you — to come up with a plan.
You can also contribute to asthma research to help yourself and others by taking the Med-IQ asthma survey! Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about the challenges you have experienced with asthma diagnosis and treatment, which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 6 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will be used to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.
Hopefully this was helpful! I’m going to be writing and publishing a lot more about my asthma research over the next two years, but feel free to ask me any questions you might have!
I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Sanofi Genzyme to write about asthma as a chronic disease and new treatments. All opinions are my own.