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Is childhood asthma being misdiagnosed?

8 April 2016


Trust consultants who specialise in respiratory problems in children have suggested that asthma in children is often misdiagnosed, potentially leading to unnecessary side effects for young patients who may be using steroid inhalers when they don’t need to. These side effects include:


  • growth suppression
  • the dampening down of immune cell activity in the airways
  • a heightened risk of respiratory infections.


Professor Andrew Bush , consultant paediatric chest physician and professor of paediatric respirology and Dr Louise Fleming, honorary consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, put forward this view in an editorial written for the online publication ‘Archives of Disease in Childhood’, published by the British Medical Journal.


They acknowledge that asthma was underdiagnosed in the past, but worry that the pendulum has now swung too far the other way, stating in the editorial that “the diagnosis of asthma has been trivialised and inhalers dispensed for no good reason”.


To address this problem, Professor Bush and Dr Fleming suggest that the focus should be on properly diagnosing asthma in children, using objective evidence. They also highlight that children often outgrow symptoms, or have changing symptoms. This means that progress should be monitored regularly and if children do not respond to their inhaler, the diagnosis should be investigated before treatment is stepped up.


However, Dr Fleming underlines the importance of talking to GPs or healthcare professionals before  stopping any medication, saying, “It is important that any change to medication is overseen by an appropriate healthcare professional. Stopping this medication for young people who do have asthma could be very serious indeed.”


Read the full editorial on the Archives of Disease in Childhood website.


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