Over the next four days, thousands of allergists and immunologists from around the world will meet in Orlando, Florida to convene at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting. This meeting is one of the premier educational events for respiratory health professionals. While many attendees are focused on the scientific presentations and abstracts, patient advocates are also in attendance bringing the patient perspective and voice to the meeting.
Tonya Winders is President and CEO of the Allergy & Asthma Network (AAN), the nation’s leading patient advocacy organization dedicated to ending needless death and suffering due to asthma, allergies and related conditions. Below, she answers some of our questions as we head into AAAAI.
How has asthma changed over the last 15 years?
When I first started working in respiratory in 2001, we thought of asthma as a single disease. As science and our understanding has evolved, we now know that asthma is more like a syndrome or a spectrum of diseases that has environmental and genetic factors with various phenotypes.
Severe or difficult to control asthma can be life threatening and requires active self- management, monitoring, and a dedicated team of pulmonologists or allergists to treat and manage the disease.
Lately, AAN’s asthma work has had a strategic focus on severe asthma. Is there a reason for this focus?
The vast majority of patients believe their asthma is well-controlled, even among severe asthma patients. This is a life-threatening misconception, and understanding your triggers, symptoms and management plan is the key to staying healthy. Severe asthma is defined by experiencing asthma symptoms more than two days per week, being limited in everyday activities due to asthma attacks and requiring additional medications to control your symptoms despite using high-dose combination controllers. One type of severe asthma is also known as eosinophilic asthma. Eosinophils are white blood cells that can make inflammation in the lungs worse. They are a normal part of the body’s immune system, but for some people with severe asthma, they can cause inflammation in the airways. It is essential every person understands the type of asthma they have.
You travel across the country speaking at medical congresses. What is your primary focus during these meetings?
It’s all about the patients. Ultimately, the scientific breakthroughs, the new data, the studies and innovative treatment options are so patients can breathe better. It sounds so simple, but that really is the goal. I work to ensure the patient voice, their challenges and successes have a seat at the table. I am their champion. This year during the AAAAI annual meeting, I am bringing together a working group that includes professional societies, patient groups and industry partners to develop an action plan and further address patients’ challenges surrounding severe uncontrolled asthma. `
What’s new for asthma patients?
Last year, The CHEST Foundation, the American College of Allergy and Immunology and Allergy & Asthma Network, joined forces to provide resources for patients and healthcare professionals that raise awareness about difficult-to-control asthma. The Asthma: Take Action Take Control campaign consists of an asthma control and severity assessment tool, a 25-page patient education guide, a medication and device guide, and various materials to help bridge the gap between patients, caregivers and clinicians. We will continue to work collaboratively with our industry partners and professional societies to help patients better understand severe asthma and the innovative treatment options and approaches now available.
To learn more about severe asthma please visit the resources below: