Has asthma medication use in children become more frequent, more appropriate, or both?

D C Goodman, P Lozano, T A Stukel, Ch Chang, J Hecht
Pediatrics 1999, 104 (2): 187-94

OBJECTIVE: Despite national initiatives to improve asthma medical treatment, the appropriateness of physician prescribing for children with asthma remains unknown. This study measures trends and recent patterns in the pediatric use of medications approved for reversible obstructive airway disease (asthma medications).

DESIGN: Population-based longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses. Setting. A nonprofit staff model health maintenance organization located in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

PARTICIPANTS: Children 0 to 17 years of age enrolled continuously during any one of the years from 1984 to 1993 (N = 83 232 in 1993). PRIMARY OUTCOME MEASURES. Percent of enrollees filling prescriptions for asthma medications and fill rates by medication class and estimated duration of inhaled antiinflammatory medication use.

RESULTS: Between 1984 and 1993, the frequency of asthma medication use increased: the percent of children filling any asthma medication prescription increased from 4. 0% to 8.1%, whereas the percent filling an inhaled antiinflammatory inhaler rose from 0.4% to 2.4%. In contrast, the intensity of inhaled antiinflammatory use decreased among users; 37% of users filled more than two inhalers during the year in 1984, and 29% in 1993. In high beta-agonist users (filling more than two beta-agonist inhalers each quarter per year), the estimated duration of inhaled antiinflammatory use increased slightly from a mean of 4.1 months per year in 1984-1986 to 5.0 months in 1991-1993; estimated duration of use in adolescents 10 to 17 years of age was approximately half that of children 5 to 9 years of age.

CONCLUSIONS: The proportion of children using asthma medications increased substantially during the study period, but the use of inhaled antiinflammatory medication per patient remained low even for those using large amounts of inhaled beta-agonists. These findings suggest that most asthma medications were used by children with mild lower airway symptoms and that inhaled antiinflammatory medication use in children with more severe disease fell short of national guidelines.

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