Child death due to asthma is a rare and potentially preventable event. We investigated possible risk factors for death due to asthma in children and adolescents, as a step towards preventing or minimizing asthma death in this age group, and improving asthma management and care. We reviewed all 108 cases of asthma death in 1-19-year-olds in Denmark, 1973-1994. Copies of death certificates, hospital records, information from general practitioners, and autopsy records were obtained. The information was assessed with particular reference to: features and duration of asthma before death; severity of asthma; time and place of death; long-term and ongoing medical treatment; quality of medical care; circumstances of final illness; and medical treatment during the final episode of asthma. Age groups of 1-4 years, 5-14 years, and 15-19 years were analyzed separately and in aggregate. Death occurred predominantly in the 15-19-year age group. Generally, significantly more patients died in the summer. These patients were more atopic, had fewer asthma symptoms, and did not have regular asthma consultations. Nearly all patients had early-onset asthma. The 1-4-year age group was characterized by severe asthma. Major risk factors (all age groups) were: gradual deterioration during the last month; length of final attack (>3 hr); and delay in seeking medical help during the final attack. None of the children died during their first attack. Nonadherence was most frequent among the 15-19-year-olds. All asthmatic children and young adults should regularly receive medical care and assessment, even if they suffer only a few symptoms. This study underlines the need for ongoing education of the patient's family, the patient, and doctors on long-term management and management of acute attacks. Copies of clearly written individual plans for periods with increasing symptoms should be supplied to the patient/family and, where appropriate, to their general practitioners. The object of these measures is that the patient and parents/family learn to recognize the signs of deterioration and to act on them.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.