Objective: Asthma morbidity and mortality continue to increase despite the availability of improved therapies. Little is known about the degree to which children with asthma use medications and health care services during symptomatic periods. This study documents prospectively the use of medications and health care contacts among children with active asthma symptoms.
Methods: Children age 6--19 years from 11 primary care settings in upstate New York were eligible for this study if they had 3 or more asthma-related medical visits during the prior year. We collected extensive information on asthma symptoms, medication use, and contacts with health care providers from biweekly phone interviews and daily diaries during a 3-month period. Symptoms were evaluated as the average number of symptomatic days per week. We tabulated the proportion of children using anti-inflammatory medications and having health care contacts according to the frequency of their symptoms during this 3-month period. Chi-square and regression analyses were used.
Results: One hundred sixty-five children participated (67% White, 24% Black, 9% Other). Sixty-five percent of the children in this sample had an average of more than 2 symptomatic days per week or more than 2 symptomatic nights per month during the 3-month study period and thus had mild persistent to severe asthma. Among these children, 25% received prednisone, and 46% reported the use of an inhaled maintenance medication during the monitoring period. Ten percent of children in this sample experienced an average of 6 or more symptomatic days per week during the study period. Among these highly symptomatic children, only 19% received prednisone, and 56% used a maintenance medication. Further, the proportion of children having contact with a health care provider during this 3-month period was 50% or less, even among the children experiencing the most frequent asthma symptoms. There were no differences in the proportion of children with health care contacts, prednisone use, or maintenance anti-inflammatory use among different gender or race categories or with different insurance types or places of residence.
Conclusions: Even among children experiencing almost daily asthma symptoms, inadequate anti-inflammatory therapy is common, and few contacts with health care providers occur. These children are silently suffering at home and likely are experiencing preventable morbidity.