Asthma Specialists say the Condition is Trivialised and Over-Diagnosed

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Wednesday, 06 April 2016

Two asthma specialists have said that too many children are being diagnosed incorrectly with the disease. They said inhalers are being distributed for no reason and are almost becoming ‘fashion accessories’.

Dr Louise Fleming and Professor Andrew Bush have warned that though steroid inhalers can save lives when they are used properly, the side effects they carry should not be taken lightly.

The two specialists are calling for more careful, objective diagnosis. Meanwhile, Asthma UK say that more efficient tests are needed urgently.

Around 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving asthma treatment, including 1.1 million children.

The two doctors, from Imperial College and the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, wrote in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal that they recognise that asthma can be a life-threatening condition that at one time was being under-diagnosed. Their argument is that now over-diagnosis is leading to some people seeing asthma as an inconsequential condition and overlooking its potential to end lives.

Currently, doctors follow guidelines to determine if a person has the condition, but as there is no ultimate test, forming a diagnosis can be difficult.

In the article, it says doctors need to think carefully about every diagnosis made and in some cases carry out more thorough checks, for example blood tests and nitrogen oxide level tests. If a child isn’t getting better with asthma medication, instead of upping doses, the article says doctors should consider that the diagnosis may be incorrect.

Medics are also urged to remember that many children grow out of their symptoms. The paper suggests that diagnoses should be checked over a period of time to be sure of their relevance.

New guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say that doctors should be using more medical tests to back up their diagnoses and avoid the risk of incorrectly diagnosing asthma.

Charity Asthma UK, meanwhile, said that more funds are needed towards researching and developing a definitive asthma test.

Dr Samantha Walker from the charity said that asthma is in fact many conditions with different triggers and causes. She said the symptoms of asthma also change through the course of a person’s life, sometimes even day by day.

According to Dr Walker, this complexity makes asthma often under and over diagnosed in both children and adults, meaning people aren’t getting the necessary care to effectively keep control of their asthma. This results in a child being admitted to hospital every 20 minutes due to an asthma attack.

Member of the British Thoracic Society and lung specialist Dr Martin Allen said that the biggest patient message is to continue taking their prescribed medication. He said if patients are concerned or need more advice on their treatment and care, they should always get in touch with their doctor.