Background: Guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute first published in 1991 have recommended anti-inflammatory (AI) agents as a first-line therapy and the bronchodilator as an acute reliever of symptoms.
Objective: To examine the current usage of anti-inflammatory steroids (inhaled corticosteroids, Cromolyn, systemic steroids) and bronchodilators and compare them with the national guidelines. The relationship between preventive AI usage and the characteristics of the asthma patients and their providers was also examined.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey data linked with 6-month pharmacy claims of asthmatic members at an HMO in California.
Results: AI usage increased with current severity (mild, 36.9%; moderate, 47.3%; and severe, 56.8%), though a large percentage are not receiving this emphasized treatment. Bronchodilators were used at a higher rate and 24% of asthmatics relied solely on bronchodilators. Use of bronchodilators without AI (BWAI) was present at all severity levels (mild, 19.5%; moderate, 24.6%; and severe, 24.7%). Advancing age, increasing severity, care by an asthma specialist, and not smoking increased the likelihood of using AIs. Increasing severity, longer duration of asthma, smoking, younger age group, care by a generalist, and no chronic bronchitis increased the likelihood of BWAI.
Conclusions: These results suggest that there is a low level of AI usage despite emphasis in guidelines. Current asthma management in a community-based setting depicts a significant underutilization of long-term control agents and, conversely, an overutilization of symptom relief agents compared with guidelines published 5 years ago. Actively involving patients in the guideline dissemination process, rather than just the medical community, may increase preventive medication usage.