National trends in asthma visits and asthma pharmacotherapy, 1978-2002

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Apr;111(4):729-35. doi: 10.1067/mai.2003.177.


Background: Research is limited on physicians' compliance with recent clinical guidelines for asthma treatment.

Objective: Our purpose was to investigate the relationships among clinical guidelines, asthma pharmacotherapy, and office-based visits through use of nationally representative data.

Methods: Nationally representative data on prescribing patterns by office-based US physicians were extracted from the National Disease and Therapeutic Index. We tracked 1978-2002 trends in the frequency of asthma visits and patterns of asthma pharmacotherapy, focusing on the use of controller and reliever medications.

Results: The estimated annual number of asthma visits in the United States increased continuously from 1978 through 1990 (18 million visits); since 1990, it has remained relatively stable. Controller medication use increased 8-fold between 1978 and 2002, inhaled corticosteroids manifesting the biggest increases. The use of reliever medications, particularly short-acting oral beta(2)-agonists, decreased modestly over this period. The aggregate use of controllers (83% of visits) superseded that of relievers (80%) for the first time in 2001. Improved appropriateness of asthma pharmacotherapy was also suggested by an increase in the controller-to-reliever ratio, which reached 92% in 2002. Xanthines, which once dominated asthma therapy (63% of visits in 1978), were used in only 2% of visits in 2002. More recent drug entrants have been adopted rapidly, single-entity long-acting inhaled beta(2)-agonists being used in 9% of visits and leukotriene modifiers in 24% of visits in 2002.

Conclusion: Asthma pharmacotherapy has changed extensively in the past 25 years. Practices over the last decade are increasingly consistent with evidence-based guidelines. These changes in medication use might have contributed to the lack of a recent increase in asthma visits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Utilization
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists