Background: Asthma is an increasing public health concern that disproportionally affects children. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control identified children aged 0 to 4 years as the "driving force" behind climbing rates of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Despite the significant asthma burden in preschool children, few studies characterize this population.
Objective: This study identifies and characterizes children at risk for asthma who are enrolled in a local Head Start program.
Methods: Caregivers of 368 children aged 3 to 5 years who were identified by using an asthma survey were recruited. Data were collected on demographics, health care use and access, medication use, symptoms, and trigger exposure. Exposure to tobacco smoke was determined by urinary cotinine and allergen sensitization by skin prick test.
Results: At baseline, 64% of the children had more than 1 emergency department visit for asthma in their lifetime, whereas 31% had more than 1 visit in the previous 6 months. Caretakers reported smoking in 37% of households with cotinine exceeding 20 ng/mg in 27% of the sample. Twenty-one percent reported symptoms consistent with intermittent asthma, and 79% reported symptoms consistent with persistent asthma. Forty-five percent of the children reported nighttime symptoms more than 1 night per week. Seventy-one percent had positive test results for more than 1 allergen, and 42% had positive test results for more than 3 allergens. Only 32% of children with persistent asthma had both rescue and controller medications.
Conclusion: Children with asthma enrolled in a Head Start program have significant environmental tobacco smoke exposure, are highly atopic and symptomatic, and do not receive appropriate medication treatment. Overall, children in the study had poor asthma control. This high-risk group could benefit from case management programs.