We were fortunate to have a virtual chat with Tonya Winders, the President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, to talk about preparing for the fall with asthma, the importance of an asthma action plan, and what new research she is most excited about. Read on to hear what she had to say, and visit the Allergy & Asthma Network website here.
Please tell us about yourself, the Allergy & Asthma Network, and the individuals you serve.
As President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, I view my role as a patient advocate, ensuring there is access to affordable, safe, and effective asthma and allergy treatments, diagnostic and management tools, and educational resources. The Network strives to have the patient voice heard at all points of healthcare.
I lead a team of dedicated people who strive to make a difference, whether it’s helping to screen for asthma, answering calls from concerned parents or developing guidelines-based resources.
More than 24 million people in the United States have asthma and 50 million have allergies. Personally, I am the mother of five children, four of whom have asthma and/or allergies.
Despite advancements in prevention and treatment, asthma continues to kill 10 people a day in the United States and cases of life-threatening food and insect venom allergies are on the rise.
We maintain a sense of urgency in what we do. We develop community outreach programs tailored to meet local needs; design educational programs and publications to reach people in all walks of life, but especially those in underserved communities where asthma has a larger impact; promote advocacy campaigns to impact public policy on access and affordability of healthcare; and conduct research with patients, healthcare professionals and industry professionals to better understand patient perceptions of their condition and attitudes and experiences living with asthma and allergies.
Your mission statement says that your aim is to end needless suffering from asthma, allergies, and related conditions through outreach, education, advocacy, and research. How do those four components work together?
Our core mission areas are all interconnected. For example, when we host an outreach event to screen people for asthma, we pass on our educational resources such as “Understanding Asthma” while also discussing national and local laws that impact access to affordable asthma medications. When we talk with healthcare providers about patient education initiatives, we alert them to recent clinical trials for new treatments and research opportunities that benefit patients.
By doing so, we expand our scope and reach. It drives home our organization’s core values:
- Asthma and life-threatening allergies are serious conditions and should not be self-diagnosed and self-treated.
- All patients have the right to quality, evidence-based healthcare from qualified professionals.
- The best health outcomes result from a close patient-provider relationship and a treatment plan developed specifically to meet individual needs.
- Family support and understanding of management plans are essential to success.
- Integrating prevention with treatment reduces ER and physician visits, keeps children in school and adults at work, and allows participation in activities of daily life.
Asthma and allergy flare-ups seem to happen a lot during the back to school months, due to a variety of factors – exposure to allergens, new viruses, and summers off from medications, among others. What steps do you suggest parents take to protect their kids (and themselves!) during the back-to-school transition?
The “September Asthma Peak” is a true phenomenon – it sends more children to emergency departments for asthma in the third week of September than any other time of the year. People are exposed to fall ragweed pollen and mold outdoors, easy-to-catch cold germs and viruses, and indoor allergens such as mold, chalk dust and animal dander. With school starting and fall sports underway, there’s also an increase in exercise-induced asthma. And sometimes patients cut back or stop taking daily asthma medications in summer months because symptoms feel less severe. Doing so without consulting their physician could have significant consequences; many times they experience more serious asthma symptoms in the fall.
The best tool for protecting patients is an Asthma Action Plan – a personalized, written document that details what to do to prevent and treat an asthma flare. We advise parents to schedule an appointment with a board-certified allergist or pulmonologist before school begins or early in the school year to review their child’s Asthma Action Plan. It should be updated periodically, becomes asthma symptoms can worsen at certain times of the year.
It’s also a good idea for parents to do a walk-through of the school and identify potential allergens and irritants, then discuss ways to reduce exposure.
When flare-ups do happen, what should asthma and allergy sufferers do to protect their health and minimize downtime?
First, follow the Asthma Action Plan. People with asthma should carry and use a quick-relief bronchodilator inhaler at the first sign of symptoms. The quick-relief inhaler relaxes and opens the airways and helps relieve symptoms such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. If symptoms persist, then it’s a sign your asthma is worsening and you should see a doctor or go to the emergency department.
Work with your healthcare provider to make sure the treatment plan is working. Take medications as prescribed – including daily asthma medications (an inhaled corticosteroid or combination medication) that can keep symptoms in check before they develop or worsen.
If you experience symptoms two or more times a week, if asthma keeps you awake two or more times a month, or if you need to refill your quick-relief bronchodilator two or more times a year, than the treatment plan is not working.
Healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way toward boosting the immune system and preventing asthma symptoms. Get a flu shot every September or October – it’s recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older as well as those diagnosed with chronic diseases such as asthma. Also, find ways to reduce stress, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and get regular, moderate exercise.
How can patients or parents of patients take an active role in their treatment and helping to generate new treatment options?
At Allergy & Asthma Network, we emphasize building a healthcare team of doctors (allergists, pulmonologists, pediatricians), nurse practitioners, pharmacists, asthma educators, respiratory therapists, social workers, and even family and friends – all collaborating with each other to serve a patient’s needs.
Studies show when patients are involved with a healthcare team, they are hospitalized fewer days and see better outcomes from treatment.
Strive for open communication with your healthcare team – use one of the many available apps to record and chart symptoms to show to your doctor – so they can determine when to step up or step down treatment.
Speaking of new treatment options, Antidote works to connect people to medical research. In the last few months, we have heard about quite a few new clinical trials coming down the pipeline for medical research. In your opinion, when should someone consider participating in research? What should someone take into account when choosing a clinical trial? Are there any particular new treatments in trials now that your team is excited about?
Our research work includes conducting market research via focus groups and surveys to support rigorous, academic and scientific studies, including asthma and allergy medication development.
Participating in research and/or clinical trials is a great way to take an active role in your health as well as obtain access to potential new treatments, medical devices and advance medical knowledge.
Clinical trials are not just for the seriously ill. Participants may be selected by age, gender or stage of illness. Even healthy volunteers are needed for comparison results.
Clinical trials are safe, but there may be risks involved. Side effects can occur when taking new medications and procedures. Patients should talk with their doctor before undergoing a clinical trial. And they should communicate results of the clinical trial to their doctor as well.
We are excited about our “Decision Mapping” research work. In the last five years, Allergy & Asthma Network has analyzed 30+ years of patient surveys, addressing how patients and families make daily decisions about treatment and how policies benefit or sometimes create barriers to care. The goal is to paint a picture of beliefs and practices over the past 30 years – then create new surveys to detect trends and understand critical issues to patients. We’ll use it to publish what we’ve learned, share the knowledge, and hopefully leave the world breathing better together in the process.