Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Boston Children's Hospital saw an 80% drop in asthma-related emergency room visits among children during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study published Friday by the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found.
The findings are based on an analysis of ER visits between March 22 and May 23, the weeks after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a pandemic-related stay-at-home order that included closing schools, day care centers and after-school programs, the researchers said.
The researchers compared asthma-related ER visits during the roughly eight-week period to the same periods in 2018 and 2019.
"This study adds to the body of literature that provides reassurance from a pediatric perspective that COVID is not necessarily resulting in an increase in asthma [attacks]," study co-author Dr. Tregony Simoneau said in a statement.
"In fact, the social distancing measures in place seem to have resulted in a significant decrease in [attacks]," said Simoneau, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital.
Pediatric asthma flareups frequently result in emergency room visits, according to Simoneau and her colleagues.
However, in their clinic visits with young people with asthma, the researchers noticed that their patients' symptom control seemed to have improved with the onset of the pandemic.
To investigate this, they analyzed the medical records of those ages 2 to 22 who visited the hospital's ER for asthma treatment in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The Massachusetts government issued its first COVID-19-related shutdown order effective March 24.
For the week of March 15 through March 21, the rate of asthma-related ER visits was similar across the three years included in the study, according to the researchers.
However, during the following week, the rate of visits decreased roughly 80% compared with the same week in 2018 and 2019, the data showed.
This decrease in visits continued through May 23, with an 82% reduction from the 2018 rate and 87% reduction from the 2019 rate, the researchers said.
The percentage of total ER visits due to asthma was lower in 2020 compared with 2018 and 2019, they said, suggesting "that the effect was not just due to an overall avoidance of the emergency [room]" during the shutdown.
However, while the number of admissions for asthma declined, the proportion of asthma-related ER visits that required hospital admission remained similar to previous years, according to the researchers.
"We felt this was important to evaluate to see whether patients presenting to the [ER] during the pandemic were sicker and therefore would have a higher rate of admission," Simoneau said.
"We think that our findings suggest a similar severity when comparing the 2020 ER visits with previous years [and] we believe this is more reflective of an overall decrease in [attacks] rather than just patients with milder exacerbations being managed at home," she said.