Children are being wrongly diagnosed with asthma and inhalers are being given out “like fashion accessories”, medical experts have warned.
Professor Andrew Bush, a consultant paediatric chest physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, and Dr Louise Fleming, a clinical senior lecturer in respiratory paediatrics at Imperial College London said asthma diagnosis has become “trivialised”.
“We certainly believe that asthma inhalers are being given out too readily,” Professor Bush told The Huffington Post UK.
“No lessons have been learnt over the last 15 years, and children still die because of failures in basic management,” the authors wrote in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
“We propose that one contributing factor is that the diagnosis of asthma has been trivialised and inhalers dispensed for no good reason, and have become almost a fashion accessory.”
The authors said this results in the disease, which killed more than 1,200 people in 2014, not being correctly managed.
Potential side effects for children incorrectly using asthma inhalers include “growth suppression and reduction in immune activity in the airways”, they stated.
The authors concluded that testing for asthma needs to be improved, and children should be required to try out different treatments for their wheezing or breathing problems.
Professor Bush said The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is currently drawing up new guidelines advising doctors to use more clinical tests to back up their judgment.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, told The Huffington Post UK: “This illustrates the challenges that GPs face every day because there currently isn’t one definitive way of easily diagnosing asthma.
“It’s astonishing in the 21st century that there isn’t a test your child can take to tell if they definitely have asthma.
“Asthma isn’t one condition but many, with different causes and triggered by different things at different ages.”
Walker noted that asthma symptoms also change throughout someone’s life or even week by week and day by day.
“This complexity means that it is both over and under-diagnosed, in children and in adults, so people don’t get the care they need to manage their asthma effectively,” she said.
“As a result, a child is admitted to hospital every 20 minutes because of an asthma attack and asthma attacks still kill the equivalent of a classroom of children every year in the UK.