I recently interviewed Dr. Cliff Bassett about asthma in women and he gave some interesting insights into gender differences associated with this disease. I’ve summarized our conversation below – or you can listen to it here.
The CDC reports that 9% of women have asthma compared to 5% of men. I think that’s a very important finding and I’m not sure if women know that they’re at higher risk than men. The good news is that asthma is completely treatable, although sadly we have as many as 4000 deaths per year in this country attributed to asthma. We’re doing a better job identifying those with severe asthma, and the death rates are decreasing.
Women need to understand that even a small amount of weight gain (as little as 5 pounds) can add up to a much higher risk of death for women with severe asthma. So weight management is very important for those with more challenging asthma symptoms.
Women are more likely to be hospitalized due to an asthma attack than men. And interestingly, up to 40% of women report that their asthma symptoms get worse just before and after menstruation. So for women it’s important to keep a symptom diary, so that if there’s a regular worsening of asthma during menstruation, they might need to be treated more aggressively (perhaps with steroids or other medications) during that time of the month.
The new asthma guidelines (from the NIH) emphasize understanding asthma triggers as the foundation of prevention. It’s much safer to avert an asthma attack than to have to treat a full blown one. So it’s really important for women with asthma to figure out what might trigger their symptoms, and avoid those triggers as much as possible.
Now that it’s winter time, most environmental triggers are of the indoor variety. Over 100 million US households have pets. The most common pet is the cat, and up to 10% of people with allergies develop specific allergies to cats. If an individual suspects that she has a pet allergy, she should see an allergist to get tested to confirm that. Avoidance measures are important, though there are medications and allergy immune therapy (allergy shots) that can help with pet allergies.
Cold dry air can be an asthma trigger in some individuals, especially if they’re engaging in outdoor physical activity. Warm ups and cool downs can help to head off an asthma attack in the cold, though it’s always a good idea to have a rescue inhaler handy.