Unless you've been living with severe or difficult-to-control asthma, you're likely unaware of just how serious the risk can be. On average, 10 Americans die each day from asthma-related causes. That's over 3,000 people each year.
The heaviest burden is among Black women, who are more likely to die from asthma compared to any other group, according to a report shared by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Deemed a public health crisis, racial differences in maternal mortality rates are also alarming. The Centers for Disease Control tracks Black moms dying at 3 to 4 times the rate of white women as a result of pregnancy-related complications.
Sharp disparities in both asthma and pregnancy are the result of corrosive racial injustice. Paired together, these extreme differences are of particular concern to patient advocacy groups like AAFA because asthma is already one of the most common chronic conditions that can complicate pregnancy to begin with.
"Changes in asthma severity while pregnant can look like a pie split into three pieces," explains Lorene Alba, AE-C who is Director of Education at AAFA. "About one-third of pregnant women with asthma will see their symptoms stay the same. Another third will see their symptoms improve. For the remaining third, symptoms get worse. Keeping asthma well controlled during pregnancy is especially important. Some studies suggest asthma complicates up to 7% of all pregnancies."
To help educate women with asthma on what to expect during pregnancy AAFA provides a free, online "Asthma During Pregnancy" resource. The quick guide helps moms learn about potential complications and risks to themselves and their babies if asthma isn't well-controlled, including increased risk of early labor, high blood pressure and a related condition known as pre-eclampsia, and a newborn's low birth weight.
The maternal health crisis is so severe for Black women that Congress introduced new legislation to stop it. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 targets resources and creates a structural change model to improve outcomes for Black women and their families. The legislative package combines 12 bills which also includes reducing a disproportionate rate of distressing outcomes for other high-risk groups including pregnant U.S. armed services veterans, incarcerated mothers, Hispanic, Indigenous, and Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) Americans. It's policy AAFA strongly endorses.
"Some of the best actions we can take as an organization include providing women with educational tools and leading on or throwing our full support behind policies which can make a difference," says Melanie Carver, AAFA's chief mission officer. "Large divides in hardship for the overall health and well-being of those experiencing the heaviest burden of disease is not only devastating, but also immoral. We're optimistic about promising opportunities for change."
- To learn more about what AAFA is doing to support the Momnibus Act and reduce racial disparities in asthma, especially for Black moms, head to aafa.org. You can get involved as an advocate or become a patient spokesperson by going to aafa.org/join.
- AAFA is currently developing a new asthma support program specifically for Black women. The organization is also working with partners on additional programs aimed at reducing racial disparities Black women face in both asthma and pregnancy.
- More AAFA resources helpful to pregnant and lactating moms with asthma can be found via its online Living with Asthma guide.