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Asthma Management During Disaster: An Overview

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Asthma is a chronic condition that causes shortness of breath and other problems. Management of asthma gets challenging during a disaster. Read further.

Written by

Dr. Asna Fatma

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At December 29, 2022
Reviewed AtAugust 21, 2023

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition affecting the airways that cause inflammation and narrowing of the air passage. This inflammation and constriction of the airways cause breathing problems. Even speaking and moving might be difficult for people with severe asthma. Common asthma symptoms include dyspnea (shortness of breath), cough, wheezing, etc. The main characteristic is airway hyperresponsiveness, which can occur due to various things. When untreated, asthma has a significant mortality rate. However, with proper management, the condition has an excellent prognosis. Approximately 25 million Americans suffer from asthma.

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma is a group of illnesses with a wide range of causes and risk factors. The known factors that are linked with asthma are a genetic tendency, especially an individual's or family's history of atopy (refers to an individual’s tendency to develop allergies). Exposure to cigarette smoke and other inflammatory chemicals or particulates is also linked to asthma. Risk factors of asthma include:

  • Respiratory tract infection (viral).

  • High-intense exercise.

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

  • Long-term sinusitis.

  • Allergens present in the environment.

  • Use of certain medications like Aspirin, beta-blockers, etc.

  • Cigarette smoke.

  • Obesity.

  • Stress.

  • Chemical fumes.

  • Certain insects and plants.

What Are the Symptoms of an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack can present with a variety of signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Severe dyspnea (shortness of breath).

  • Extreme difficulty in breathing.

  • Tightness in the chest.

  • Pain in chest.

  • Coughing.

  • Wheezing (whistling sound while breathing).

  • Low readings for the peak expiratory flow (PEF).

  • Symptoms that do not improve after using an inhaler.

Three things may occur during an asthma attack:

  1. The muscles surrounding the airways tighten, narrowing them. Constrictions in the airways prevent the free passage of air.

  2. The airways' mucosal lining swells. Swollen airways restrict the amount of air that may enter or exit the lungs.

  3. More mucus is produced by the body during an asthma attack. Airways are blocked by this heavy mucus.

How to Manage Asthma During Disasters?

Asthma can be managed in the following ways during a disaster:

Before Disasters:

  • An asthma action plan should be formulated with the help of a healthcare provider. The strategy will provide guidance on when to take prescribed medication and assist in preventing and controlling asthma attacks. This plan should be followed before, during, and after the disaster.

  • Have sufficient asthma medication on hand to last at least seven to ten days. Keep duplicates of other crucial documents, including the insurance card, prescriptions, the asthma action plan, and any doctor's contact information.

  • Asthma patients are at higher risk of developing severe health conditions like respiratory infection or flu. Therefore, getting flu shots every year is crucial as a precautionary measure.

During Disasters:

  • Several asthma triggers are linked to disasters. For instance, strong winds during disasters may disperse pollen and dust. Floods and storms could cause buildings to leak water, leading to mold growth and causing asthma attacks. People who have asthma should be cautious of these triggers and try to stay away from them.

  • Regular hand washing can help stop the transmission of germs and minimize the risk of contracting an infection that will aggravate the lungs and airways infections.

  • During emergencies, the drugs may get contaminated if they are exposed to contaminated water. Adhere to the FDA's (Food and Drug Administration) recommendations for safe medicine usage following a natural disaster. Through the emergency prescription assistance program, asthma patients can receive assistance with prescription medications or medical supplies.

After Disasters:

  • People with asthma should try to stay away from moldy areas. Before cleaning up, the house needs to be dry and mold-free.

  • Anything that has contacted floodwater may be contaminated with pathogens. Following a disaster, cleaning surfaces and household equipment may involve using various disinfectants that might aggravate asthma. Therefore, disinfection should be done by someone else. Keep windows open during cleaning for ventilation, and dab disinfectant onto a cloth or towel rather than spraying it on.

  • Asthma attacks can be induced by stress. To deal with the intense emotions people might experience during a disaster or traumatic incident, follow the CDC's advice.

What Should Be in an Asthma Disaster Kit?

An asthma disaster kit can help manage the condition in case of emergencies. The kit should include the following:

Medical Supplies: A seven-day supply of medication is what the American Red Cross advises keeping in the emergency kit. Keep a record of when each of the medications in the kit is due to expire, starting with the one that does so first. This can be accomplished by listing the kit's components on an index card. The following medicines should be added to the emergency kit:

  1. Asthma inhalers.

  2. Daily asthma medications for long-term control.

  3. Anti-allergic medicines.

  4. Eczema medicines.

  5. Painkillers.

  6. Nebulizer.

  7. Dust masks and face shields.

  8. Sanitizer.

  9. Gloves.

  10. Other emergency medicines.

Paper Work: Printout copies of crucial documents should be kept along with the emergency kit. If the power goes out or the communications networks are down, electronic access will not be possible. The following documents should be kept:

  1. Insurance papers.

  2. Asthma action plan.

  3. Contact details of healthcare providers, pharmacists, and other people.

  4. Prescription drug and dosage list.

Food and Water: Have enough food and water on hand for each household member to last at least three days.

Conclusion:

Asthma is a chronic health condition affecting the airways and causes inflammation and constriction of the air passage. Asthma causes dyspnea (shortness of breath), difficulty in breathing, cough, wheezing, etc. The condition requires immediate medical attention and management, and the treatment can be challenging. Asthma management can get even more challenging in case of any disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, pandemic, etc. However, with mindful planning and groundwork, asthma can be managed even during a disaster.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Can Asthma Be Managed in Different Ways?

Asthma can be managed in different ways, which are mentioned below:
- Lifestyle Changes - Avoiding triggering factors like smoke, dust, and pets can help to control asthmatic attacks.
- Healthy Habits - Maintaining optimal weight and reducing stress is the best way to manage asthma.
- Medications - Inhalers like Albuterol are very effective in controlling asthma.

2.

How Is Asthma Treated and Managed?

Asthma is treated by controlling symptoms and reducing inflammation of the air passage. Reducing exposure to allergens and irritants helps to prevent asthma symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids, bronchodilators, leukotriene modifiers, and oral medications control the symptoms.

3.

Can Asthma Cause the Death of an Individual?

Severe cases of asthma can be fatal. Generally, asthma attacks narrow the air passage and make breathing difficult. Untreated asthma can result in a lack of oxygen and respiratory failure and may lead to death. However, asthma-related death is rare and can be prevented if managed properly.

4.

What Are the Effects of Asthma on the Body?

Asthma can affect various body parts, which are listed below
- Lungs - It narrows the airways and makes breathing difficult, causing wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Heart - Severe asthmatic attacks can strain the heart and increase the rate of heart problems.
- Sleep - The asthma symptoms can interfere with sleep, leading to fatigue and decreased productivity.
- Circulatory System - Asthma causes changes in blood pressure which strains the circulatory system.

5.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma diagnosis involves a combination of physical examination, medical history, and test results. Some of the following tests aid in asthma diagnosis.
- Lung Function Test - Spirometry and peak flow measurement helps to assess lung functions.
- Imaging Test - Chest X-rays and computed tomography provide images of lung damage.
- Oxygen Levels - Arterial blood gas test helps asses the oxygen in the blood and determines the severity of asthma.

6.

How Was Asthma Managed During COVID?

During COVID (Coronavirus disease), asthma management involves the following steps.
- Adhering to preventive measures like wearing a mask and practicing good hygiene. 
- Regularly monitoring the symptoms and adjusting medications as per requirements.
- Avoiding potential exposure to COVID in high-risk environments, especially for individuals with severe asthma.

7.

How Does Asthma Develop in the Human Body?

Asthma develops in the human body when the airways become inflamed and narrow. It may occur as a result of environmental and genetic factors. For example, in an individual with asthma, when exposed to triggers like pollution, dust, and smoke, the airways become more swollen, resulting in shortness of breath.

8.

How Is Asthma Managed During Pregnancy and Emergency?

During pregnancy, asthma is managed by regularly monitoring oxygen levels. In addition, medications, like inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators, may be advised. Also, the health provider may recommend avoiding factors that trigger asthma. In case of emergency, quick-relief medication like Albuterol is administered. Also, calling for emergency medical services is advised.
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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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