Relative to Whites, asthma attacks and related emergency department (ED) visits trended downward among Black adults and children during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a brief research study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.  

Narrowing asthma morbidity disparities through the pandemic suggests opportunities for mitigation, such as improving environmental conditions or developing and equitably delivering vaccines against common respiratory pathogens, according to the researchers from Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance.

For the study, the researchers analyzed National Health Interview Survey data from 2019 to 2022 to determine whether a decrease in exacerbations of asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been attributed to a decline in transmission of common respiratory viruses that often provoke asthma attacks, narrowed national disparities in asthma morbidity. 

The researchers examined three outcomes by racial and ethnic groups: a current asthma diagnosis; and, among those ever diagnosed with asthma, experiencing any asthma episode-attack or an asthma-related ED visit within the past year. 

The data showed that for adults, asthma prevalence overall increased slightly in 2022, driven by increases among White adults. Hispanic adults had the lowest and Black adults the highest prevalence throughout the study period, with the adjusted difference between Black and White adults decreasing over time. Asthma prevalence among children remained overall stable and was consistently highest among Black children. Asthma attack rates were stable and comparable among White and Hispanic adults but decreased among Black adults, from 29.3% in 2019 to 22.1% in 2022. 

During the same timeframe, ED visits decreased among adults and children, with a particularly large drop among Black individuals. Disparities in ED visit rates between Black (as well as Hispanic) and White children evident in 2019 narrowed sharply during pandemic years.  

According to the authors, these findings suggest that policies are needed to address the multitude of factors that drive both asthma pathogenesis and exacerbations.

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