On May 15, 2007, The U.S. House of Representatives passed House Bill 296, which recognized the third week of May as National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW), meant to educate the public and the medical community about eosinophil-associated disorders.
However, despite the rise of national awareness weeks and increased diagnosis rates, many are still left in the dark about eosinophil-associated disorders and the impacts these diseases can have on a patient.
Eosinophil advocates stress the importance of understanding how eosinophil functions in the body before learning how eosinophil-associated diseases work. According to the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED), eosinophils (ee-oh-sin-oh-fils) are a type of white blood cell that naturally exist as part of our immune system. These white blood cells make up less than 5 percent of those circulating in our body and are responsible for a variety of tasks including movement to inflamed areas, trapping substances, killing cells, anti-parasitic and bactericidal activity, participating in immediate allergic reactions and controlling inflammatory responses; however, people can have abnormally high levels of eosinophils in certain parts of the body, causing an eosinophilic-associated disease.
Eosinophils in the peripheral blood of a patient with idiopathic eosinophilia by Ed Uthman, MD, Houston, Texas, USA.
Higher numbers of eosinophils can cause inflammation and damage to internal organs, leading to intense pain and discomfort in patients. According to the APFED, tissue biopsies are often needed to diagnose an eosinophil-associated disease, making delays in diagnosis common.
There are multiple types of eosinophilic diseases, and the diagnosis depends on where the high levels of eosinophils are located. For instance, eosinophilic cystitis occurs when eosinophils are in the bladder wall and symptoms may be similar to a bladder infection. However, a patient is diagnosed with eosinophilic pneumonia when eosinophils are present in the lungs. In this case, symptoms may include cough, fever and difficulty breathing.
While eosinophilic diseases are rare, they are increasingly being diagnosed in children and young adults, the APFED says. Despite increasing diagnosis rates, eosinophilic patients often experience a delay in diagnosis and treatment because symptoms may be similar to other conditions. Blood tests are often used to identify high eosinophil counts in the body. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your doctor about your blood tests results and asking about what a high eosinophil count may mean for your symptoms and condition.
Sadly, eosinophil patients are no stranger to the type of insurance discrimination chronic disease patients face on a regular basis. 17-year-old Remington Walls experienced this firsthand when his insurer wouldn’t cover his nutritional formula.
Because of Walls’ Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), his only source of nutrition is a specially formulated hypoallergenic amino acid-based elemental formula. According to the article from Living Allergic, this formula costs $2,000 a month and was covered by Walls’ insurance for 12 years until suddenly that coverage stopped.
“The denial letter from the insurance company says our plan now excludes vitamins, food and food supplements used as dietary supplements. This isn’t used as a food supplement, it’s his only source of nutrition,” Remington’s mom, Stephanie Walls, told Allergic Living. “We’ve already got a lot of wheels turning. My fear is that it is going to take two to three years and when I think of that, I get overwhelmed. I have to take it day by day.”
Walls has learned to cope with EoE throughout his childhood, the article reads, but facing insurance discrimination and not getting coverage for an essential treatment is something that no patient should have to deal with.
Remaining aware of eosinophil and its associated diseases is key in spreading awareness and ensuring patients get the diagnosis and care they deserve. You can utilize National Eosinophil Awareness Week from May 17 to 23 to find and share important resources with your community. Be sure to flex your eosinophilic knowledge on social media and don’t forget to tag @ChronicRights!