Most Children Don't Receive Needed Asthma Medicine

Findings from Children's Hospital at Strong published in Pediatrics

January 12, 2000

As many as 2 million U.S. children with moderate to severe asthma are not taking recommended preventive medications, say researchers at Children's Hospital at Strong.

"Our main goal was to find out whether children are actually receiving the asthma therapy they need," says Jill Halterman, M.D., a second-year academic pediatric fellow and lead author of the study, published in this month's issue of Pediatrics. "We know of asthma medications that are effective in reducing symptoms and preventing hospitalization, but many children aren't getting them prescribed, or aren't taking them."

Researchers analyzed data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988 to 1994), and found that 74 percent of children studied weren't receiving recommended asthma medications. The survey included children across the country, and sampled people of all races and economic backgrounds.

"We found that few children were receiving medications that could have helped," Halterman says. "We also discovered that two groups - poor children and Hispanic children - were at highest risk of not taking medications.

Halterman says there are many potential reasons why children aren't receiving help. Some primary care physicians might not be aware of emergency-room visits caused by asthma and might not prescribe preventive medications. Parents might also be afraid of side effects, or might have trouble administering the medicine.

If more children took proper asthma medications, Halterman says there could be a significant decline in suffering caused by asthma, school absenteeism, emergency room visits, hospitalization, and stress on the family unit.

Halterman's research team included John McBride, M.D., and Peter Szilagyi, M.D., M.P.H., of Children's Hospital at Strong, and Andrew Aligne, M.D. and Peggy Auinger, M.S., of Rochester General Hospital. The team is planning a follow-up study in which it will examine asthma treatment in the Rochester area.

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