A reason to mask sick kids? Rutgers study cites asthma declines during pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic may have actually helped some kids avoid a long-term lung disease.
According to a new Rutgers study that published in Respiratory Research, new diagnoses of asthma among minors decreased by 52% during the first year of the pandemic, compared to the previous three years.
Researchers analyzed nationwide data related to privately insured children. The Rutgers study is believed to be the first to present this trend in the U.S. — a study out of Japan showed similar findings there.
"Asthma is a chronic disease, but we know it has certain triggers, and one of those triggers is viruses," said Daniel Horton, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Rutgers.
Wearing masks and separated from other children to protect themselves from COVID-19, kids were also getting fewer regular colds during much of 2020, Horton said.
Genetics and allergens can also be a cause of asthma in children. The disease most often presents itself during childhood when one's immune system is still developing.
Researchers can't entirely link the drop in diagnoses with lesser rates of disease. Horton noted that the pandemic caused huge disruptions in health care access — fewer parents may have sought care for symptoms due to the threat of COVID-19.
But separate research, Horton said, showed that children who already had asthma pre-pandemic were dealing with fewer health issues during 2020, and there were fewer hospitalizations related to asthma compared to previous years.
"We need to learn more about what's happened more recently, and whether rates of asthma diagnosis have returned to what they were before," Horton said.
More than 167,000 New Jersey children have asthma, according to the state Department of Health.
Because of the findings, and the mere fact that routine viruses can trigger asthma, Horton said parents would be wise to mask their children when they're dealing with symptomatic colds, to protect other kids who have asthma or are at risk for getting asthma.