Objective: Childhood asthma morbidity and mortality are increasing despite improvements in asthma therapy. We hypothesized that a substantial number of children with moderate to severe asthma are not taking the maintenance medications recommended by national guidelines. The objective of this study was to describe medication use among US children with asthma and determine risk factors for inadequate therapy.
Methods: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III 1988-1994 provided cross-sectional, parent-reported data for children 2 months to 16 years of age. Analysis focused on children with moderate to severe asthma (defined as having any hospitalization for wheezing, >/=2 acute visits for wheezing, or >/=3 episodes of wheezing over the past year). We defined these children as adequately treated if they had taken a maintenance medication (inhaled corticosteroid, cromolyn, or theophylline) during the past month. Demographic variables were analyzed for independent associations with inadequacy of therapy. The statistical analysis used SUDAAN software to account for the complex sampling design.
Results: A total of 1025 children (9.4%) had physician-diagnosed asthma. Of those with moderate to severe asthma (n = 524), only 26% had taken a maintenance medication during the past month. Even among children with 2 or more hospitalizations over the previous year, only 32% had taken maintenance medications. In a logistic regression analysis, factors significantly associated with inadequate therapy included: age </=5 years, Medicaid insurance, and Spanish language. Children surveyed after 1991, when national guidelines for asthma management became available, were no more likely to have taken maintenance medications than children surveyed before 1991.
Conclusion: Most children with moderate to severe asthma in this nationally representative sample, including those with multiple hospitalizations, did not receive adequate asthma therapy. These children may incur avoidable morbidity. Young children, poor children, and children from Spanish-speaking families appear to be at particularly high risk for inadequate therapy.