May Is Asthma Awareness Month: Here’s What This Black Pulmonologist Is Doing To Dispel Myths And Eliminate Disparities

Courtesy of Chidinma Chima-Melton

Asthma Awareness Month is observed every May. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that can cause wheezing, breathlessness, tightness in the chest, and coughing.

According to the American Lung Association, over 26 million people in America are living with this condition. Similar to other health conditions, there are clear racial disparities for members of the Black population suffering from asthma. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health reports that in 2019, Black Americans “were 30 percent more likely to have asthma than” whites. In addition, Black people “were almost three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than” their white counterparts in 2020.

In commemoration of this year’s Asthma Awareness Month, ESSENCE sat down with board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist Chidinma Chima-Melton MD, MBA, FCCP to discuss what inspired her career path and why this month is of particular importance to Black women and children.

“I chose my specialty in pulmonary and critical care medicine because my passion lies in helping people breathe easier,” Chima-Melton told ESSENCE.

“Whether it’s through helping patients identify and remove triggers like smoke or educating my patients on disease management, witnessing my patients return with reduced coughing, improved breathing, and newfound freedom to engage in activities they love without the burden of asthma symptoms is incredibly fulfilling to me. Ultimately, my career in pulmonary and critical care stems from the desire to empower individuals to live unrestricted lives and experience the simple joy of breathing well,” continued Chima-Melton.

The statistics are clear, explained Chima-Melton, emphasizing how “it’s crucial to shed light on the disproportionate impact asthma has within the Black community, particularly among women and children. Asthma, while highly treatable, remains one of the leading causes of hospitalization and death for Black people, especially Black women and children. Black people are 3-4 times more likely to die from asthma compared to other races. Even more concerning, Black children are 8 times more likely to die from asthma than white children and are four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma compared to their white counterparts. Black women are 84% more likely to have asthma than Black men.”

“As a pulmonologist, dispelling myths surrounding asthma treatment is an important part of my role. One common myth I hear is that if you use your controller inhaler consistently, you become ‘dependent’ on it. This false belief leads to reluctance in using inhalers,” stated Chima-Melton. “However, asthma stems from reversible airway obstruction caused by inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness. Using controller inhalers daily treats this underlying inflammation, addressing the root cause of the disease, leading to fewer asthma flares and better breathing.”

Another little-known fact is that “asthma can occur at any age. Some people have asthma from childhood, whereas others may develop it later in life (adult-onset asthma) – I have diagnosed new-onset asthma in 80-year-old patients! Asthma severity falls along a spectrum, ranging from mild intermittent symptoms, where you can go weeks to months without symptoms, to severe persistent asthma, where sufferers live with daily symptoms,” revealed Chima-Melton.

“Addressing this significant health inequity requires a concerted effort to improve awareness, education, reduce toxic environmental exposures, and improve access to preventive care for Black families not only during Asthma Awareness Month but continuously,” Chima-Melton shared.

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