What Parents of Asthmatic Kids Need to Know About Coronavirus

What Pediatricians Have To Say About Asthmatic Kids And COVID-19

March 13, 2020 Updated April 2, 2020

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There is a lot to be concerned about when it comes to coronavirus (COVID-19), especially how it has affected the elderly and folks with underlying medical conditions. But so far, the stats in terms of children have been very encouraging, which has come as a relief to many of us concerned parents.

Although there is still limited data, since COVID-19 is a brand new virus, evidence suggests that when children do get the virus, they tend to get milder versions of it than adults do. The mortality rate for children has also been extremely low, another great sign.

Like many parents, I have felt considerable relief hearing all these statistics … except for one thing. I have two asthmatic children. Just last year, one of my children was hospitalized for a severe asthma attack triggered by a respiratory infection. So even though it’s been reassuring that COVID-19 isn’t likely to cause a severe infection for my kids, the fact that one of its main targets is the lungs and that “acute respiratory distress” is a common symptom doesn’t exactly put my mind at ease.

I have lost considerable sleep over this, imagining “worse case scenarios” for my kiddos. I think any parent of an asthmatic child can’t help but go there right now.

The thing is—I think because there is still limited data at this point—it’s been really hard to get good, up-to-date information about exactly how COVID-19 affects asthmatic children specifically.

So I went right to the experts. I took my most pressing questions to three different doctors. Thankfully, I think we have reason to be cautiously optimistic. Read on …

COVID-19 is not supposed to affect kids as severely as older people. But what about kids with asthma? Is that considered an underlying condition?

“At this point, the available evidence suggests that children who develop COVID-19 generally have very mild symptoms, including children with asthma,” Dr. Phoebe Danziger, a board-certified pediatrician at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, tells Scary Mommy.

Asthma is generally considered an “underlying condition,” especially when it comes to respiratory infections, says Danziger. But that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to COVID-19.

“For respiratory viruses like influenza, we typically think of children with more severe asthma as being at higher risk of developing serious complications if they become infected, but at this point we don’t have any evidence to suggest that this is the case with COVID-19,” says Dr. Danziger.

Dr. Alison Escalante, a pediatrician for Dupage Medical Group in Illinois, and a TEDx speaker and writer for Psychology Today, echoes Danziger’s statements:

“The reality is that asthma is an important respiratory disease that impacts kids, and it can make a respiratory virus a bigger problem,” says Dr. Escalante. Again, says Dr. Escalante, we don’t have enough data to know for sure how COVID-19 affects kids with asthma, but what we know so far is very encouraging.

“The data we do have shows kids doing really well,” Dr. Escalante says. “Undoubtedly, children in China who had asthma were infected, but we have not had reports of them having the kind of severe disease we’ve seen in adults.”

What should a scared parent of an asthmatic parent know?

Girl at doctor's appointment using an asthma inhaler
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Okay, so on top of having an asthmatic kid, I also have an anxiety disorder. So while hearing all of this is reassuring, I can’t help but wonder if my asthmatic kid is going to be the exception here. It doesn’t help that we don’t have a ton of data so far about kids and COVID-19. All the “what ifs” don’t go away too easily—and I know I’m not alone.

Dr. Anna Zimmerman, a neonatologist specializing in the treatment of premature and sick newborn infants in Denver, Colorado, put my mind at ease a bit.

First of all, if you are an asthma parent feeling especially anxious about all this, you aren’t the only one feeling scared. “Everyone is scared about COVID-19, especially parents of children with underlying medical conditions, like prematurity, asthma, or immunocompromised children,” said Dr. Zimmerman.

“The most important thing for parents to do is to not panic,” said Dr. Zimmerman. (Easier said than done, but I’ll try, doc!)

If you are feeling anxious about how the virus might affect your child, take action, says Dr. Zimmerman.

“For children with asthma, it is essential to keep their asthma medications on hand, and ensure you have enough supply to cover an overnight emergency,” she recommended. “Additionally, review the asthma action plan your doctor gave you for your child so you are prepared in case their symptoms get worse.”

Besides having medications up to date and equipment ready, what else can parents of asthmatic kids do to prepare for COVID-19?

Yes, it’s absolutely essential that you are up-to-date on all your asthmatic child’s medications and that you have their equipment at the ready. Check your medicine cabinet for inhalers and nebulizer medication–and refill any prescriptions that are about to expire. If your child uses a nebulizer, make sure it is in good working order. (I personally would recommend having two nebulizers on hand if you are able. I learned this lesson the hard way, when my nebulizer broke in the middle of the night last year.)

But what else should parents of asthmatics do to prepare?

Definitely continue whatever asthma action plan you and your pediatrician have put in place, says Dr. Escalante.

“If your child’s doctor has put them on a daily preventative medicine, whether a pill or an inhaler for their asthma, be sure to be giving it to them as prescribed,” she advises. “These medicines go a long way to prevent severe asthma attacks when your child gets a virus.”

You shouldn’t just do this to protect your child, but it’s important from a public health standpoint, says Dr. Danziger. “Hospitals may be working well beyond usual capacity, meaning that this is a time to do everything you can to minimize the risk of needing medical attention for non-COVID-19 reasons,” she explains.

Dr. Danziger also recommends having a good supply of children’s acetaminophen, “to reduce fever and discomfort in the event of illness.” Treating COVID-19 symptoms with ibuprofen is not recommended at this time.

In addition, she highly recommends you make sure your child has had their flu shot and that they are up-to-date with all their vaccines. “There is conflicting data on the rate of co-infection with additional respiratory viruses like influenza in COVID-19, but as a precaution it would be very prudent to make sure that children are receiving all available protection against other respiratory pathogens such as influenza and common bacteria that cause pneumonia,” said Dr. Danziger.

Phew. All right, I think I do feel a little better after having interviewed these doctors. I’ll probably still be a little extra worried about my asthmatic kiddos until this awful virus gets more under control and we have more even more data about it affects asthmatic kids.

But I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic that it’s not the worst virus out there for asthmatic children. So far, it seems like the flu and RSV (known to cause asthmatic symptoms) are worse for asthmatic kids.

And I’ll leave you with even more encouraging words from Dr. Zimmerman, regarding kids, asthma, and COVID-19.

“This is a scary time, and things are changing rapidly,” she said. “Focus on information from reputable sources such as your local public health department or children’s hospital. I encourage families to take this pandemic seriously, but not to panic.”

“All the evidence points to predominantly mild symptoms in children,” she added.

Yep, let’s make sure we stay on top of things, only read reliable sources, and try to remain calm. It’s a scary time, but we’re going to be okay.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check out Scary Mommy’s comprehensive parent resource guide.