Background: Age-related sex differences in asthma hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits have been reported, but relationships of these differences to disease prevalence and outpatient management have not been defined.
Objective: To define the relationships of sex to asthma-related health care utilization and medications, accounting for age-related differences in asthma prevalence.
Methods: Computerized data from Southern California Kaiser-Permanente were used to identify asthmatic patients, aged 2 to 64 years, enrolled continuously during 1999 and 2000. Age-specific asthma prevalence in 1999 was calculated to identify ages of male or female predominance. Males and females were compared with regard to asthma-related health care utilization outcomes (outpatient clinic visits, ED visits, and hospitalizations) and medication use (beta-agonists, inhaled steroids, and oral steroids). Hospitalizations, ED visits, and oral steroid use were considered markers of disease severity.
Results: Of the 60,694 subjects, the female-male prevalence ratio was approximately 35:65 at each age between 2 and 13 years, it was inverse (65:35) between the ages of 23 and 64 years, and prevalences were relatively similar at the ages of 14 to 22 years. In patients aged 2 to 13 years, most utilization and medication variables were significantly greater in males (P < .01). Females aged 14 to 22 years had more outpatient and ED visits and used more oral steroids than males. In patients aged 23 to 64 years, all utilization variables were significantly greater in females, except beta-agonist use and mean inhaled steroid dispensings.
Conclusions: Asthma utilization and severity appear greater in males aged 2 to 13 years, somewhat greater in females aged 14 to 22 years, and definitely greater in females aged 23 to 64 years. The mechanisms for these striking sex differences merit further investigation.