Background: Asthma control and prevention of exacerbations are primary objectives for asthma care. However there is a lack of universal definition of these notions which may therefore have a different meaning according to the physician's practice.
Methods: In the present survey, 1805 general practitioners, 551 pulmonologists, 176 allergologists and 470 resuscitation/emergency care physicians were randomly selected in fall 2001 and asked to answer one question on asthma control and three questions on asthma exacerbation.
Results: Regarding asthma control, the presence of minimum symptoms was the primary criterion for asthma specialists (pulmonologists and allergologists), while a normal respiratory function was first considered by nonspecialist physicians (general practitioners and emergency care physicians). The first criterion of mild exacerbation for asthma specialists was the occurrence during at least 2 days of an increase in the frequency of dyspnoea and/or the use of short-acting bronchodilators. For nonspecialist physicians, dyspnoea affecting daily activities and/or sleeping was the preferred notion. Hospitalization was unanimously recognized as the first criterion for severe exacerbations. A decrease in peak expiratory flow of more than 30% below the baseline value on two consecutive days and an episode requiring systemic corticosteroids were the next criteria.
Conclusions: This survey emphasizes the complexity of the notions of asthma control and exacerbation and provides novel informations to orient continuing education programmes.