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Risks associated with managing asthma without a preventer: urgent healthcare, poor asthma control and over-the-counter reliever use in a cross-sectional population survey.

BMJ Open 2017 September 26
OBJECTIVES: Overuse of asthma relievers, particularly without anti-inflammatory preventers, increases asthma risks. This study aimed to identify how many reliever-only users have urgent healthcare, explore their attitudes and beliefs about asthma and its treatment, and investigate whether purchasing over-the-counter relievers was associated with worse asthma outcomes than by prescription.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Cross-sectional population-based Internet survey in Australia.

PARTICIPANTS: Of 2686 participants ≥16 years with current asthma randomly drawn from a web-based panel, 1038 (50.7% male) used only reliever medication.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Urgent asthma-related healthcare; Asthma Control Test (ACT); patient attitudes about asthma and medications; reliever purchase (with/without prescription).

RESULTS: Of 1038 reliever-only participants, 23.3% had required urgent healthcare for asthma in the previous year, and only 36.0% had a non-urgent asthma review. Those needing urgent healthcare were more likely than those without such events to be male (56.5% vs 49.0%, p=0.003) and current smokers (29.4% vs 23.3%, p=0.009). Only 30.6% had well-controlled asthma (ACT ≥20) compared with 71.0% of those with no urgent healthcare (p<0.0001), and 20.8% used relievers regularly to prevent asthma symptoms (vs 5.5% of those without urgent healthcare). Those with urgent healthcare were more frustrated by their asthma and less happy with how they managed it, and they were less confident about their ability to manage worsening asthma, but just as likely as those without urgent healthcare to manage worsening asthma themselves rather than visit a doctor. Reliever-only users purchasing over-the-counter relievers were no more likely than those purchasing relievers by prescription to have uncontrolled asthma (35.9% vs 40.6%, p=0.23) but were less likely to have had a non-urgent asthma review.

CONCLUSIONS: One-quarter of the reliever-only population had needed urgent asthma healthcare in the previous year, demonstrating the importance of identifying such patients. Their attitudes and beliefs suggest opportunities for targeting this population in the community.

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