Here’s How to Manage Asthma If You Usually Rely on the E.R. for Care

In the CDC survey, the percentages of adults with asthma who had partial or no insurance ranged from 3.3% in Washington, D.C., to 22.2% in Texas. But even 13.3% of people in that age range with insurance for the whole year faced cost barriers that got in the way of managing their asthma. In short, way too many people are having trouble getting preventive asthma care, which can make emergency care necessary.

“These are not like regular checkup appointments. Usually, these are acute episodes that trigger someone to go to the E.R.,” Melody Goodman, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics at NYU School of Public Global Health, whose research examines the ways social risk factors lead to disparities in health care in urban areas, tells SELF.

Under the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), any hospital that participates in Medicare and has an emergency room must stabilize patients deemed to have an emergency medical condition, regardless of whether the patient can afford it. Fears of high costs can lead people with asthma to hold off from seeking emergency care until the situation is truly dire.

How does COVID-19 affect people with asthma?

Asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness happen when something triggers the airways in your lungs to become inflamed. This prompts them to constrict, swell up, and produce extra mucus, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

All sorts of things can kickstart this scary chain reaction, including viral respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu. Researchers are still gathering data on COVID-19, and right now it’s unclear exactly how it affects people with asthma specifically. But experts think it makes sense that the coronavirus could trigger asthma symptoms the way other viral respiratory illnesses do. And the CDC advises that people with moderate to severe asthma may be more at risk of experiencing severe symptoms from COVID-19.

Some of the symptoms of an asthma attack and COVID-19 are similar, notably shortness of breath and coughing. “But with viral infections, you also often get other symptoms, like a fever and aches and pains, and sometimes gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, which don’t come with asthma,” R. Sharon Chinthrajah, M.D., a clinical associate professor at Stanford University and director of the Clinical Translational Research Unit at the university’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research, tells SELF.

You can read more about the potential relationship between asthma and COVID-19 here. While we wait for experts to uncover more information in that realm, it’s a good idea to learn how to handle your asthma while many E.R.s are overwhelmed with the COVID-19 crisis.

First, see if you can get a prescription for asthma medication.

The most effective way for people with asthma to avoid the emergency room is by managing the condition with medication so it doesn’t escalate to emergency status. Experts are even recommending stocking up on a three-month supply if you can. Even if it’s hard for you to get affordable asthma medication in normal times, it may be somewhat more accessible during the pandemic.

“Health care professionals are doing their best right now to help make essential medications more accessible so we can keep people out of the E.R.,” Dr. Chinthrajah says. As Dr. Chinthrajah points out, in early April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a generic form of an inhaler to help make this in-demand medication easier for people to get.

So the first thing you need is a prescription for asthma medication. You may be able to get one online. The telemedicine service Galileo has waived its fees for people who need prescriptions in hard-hit COVID-19 areas like California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington State.

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