Background: Asthma exacerbations are one of the most common causes of hospitalization in children and account for approximately 10,000 intensive care unit (ICU) admissions per year in the United States. Despite the prevalence of this disease in children, the factors associated with the development of these severe exacerbations are largely unknown.
Methods: A retrospective case-control study was conducted involving all eligible children admitted to the hospital with asthma for a 1-year period. Potential associated factors and outcomes of children admitted to the ICU with a severe exacerbation (cases) were compared to those of children with acute asthma admitted to the ward (controls).
Results: A total of 188 children were hospitalized with asthma during the study period, 57 (30%) of whom required admission to the ICU. There were no differences in age, gender, or race between cases and controls. Children admitted to the ICU were significantly more likely to have an allergy or irritant-triggered exacerbation than children admitted to the ward (OR 3.9; 95% CI 1.9-8.2; p = .0003). Additionally, children in the ICU had a significantly shorter duration of illness before being admitted to the hospital compared to those admitted to the ward (1.7 ± 2.3 vs. 3.4 ± 4.8 days; p = .002).
Conclusions: In this retrospective review, severe asthma exacerbations in children are associated with a more rapid onset of symptoms and are more likely to be associated with allergens or irritants, supporting the importance of atopy in this population.