If doctors hope to improve asthma symptoms in the 6 million U.S. children with the disease, they may first want to have a chat with their parents, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
They found that parents’ misgivings and misperceptions about asthma medications may be a major stumbling block to asthma control in children.
Only about half of all prescribed preventive asthma drugs are actually taken daily as directed, said Kelly Conn of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
“We know there are a lot of children who need the medicines, but they are not getting them as they should be,” Conn said in a telephone interview.
She and colleagues wanted to find out what role parents played in this lack of compliance.
They surveyed 622 parents in southeastern Michigan whose children took at least one drug to prevent asthma symptoms.
About one in six, or 17 percent, of the parents said their fears over the possible harm a drug might do outweighed their belief that the child needed the medication.
Another 6 percent were equally torn between the good the drugs might do and their fears of possible harm.
Ultimately, 77 percent of the parents said the need for the drugs outweighed their concerns about them. But only 14 percent of parents said they followed their child’s medication regimen completely as directed, according to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics.
Conn said a lot of parents’ worry stems from a lack of understanding of newer drugs designed to prevent asthma attacks rather than treat immediate symptoms.
She said parents who had asthma in their childhood may not be accustomed to newer levels of control and think coughing and wheezing three or four times a week is normal.
“They may not understand that there is a medication that, if taken daily, their kids can be virtually symptom-free,” Conn said in a telephone interview.
Fear of steroids
Just the mention of steroids scares some, who associate steroids with bulked-up athletes.
“This is not the scary steroid they may think it is, and it is really primarily being delivered into the lungs,” she said.
Conn said doctors treating children with asthma should spend time talking with parents and addressing their concerns.
Last week, the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute released the first major overhaul of U.S. asthma treatment guidelines in a decade.
They carve out a new age group for treatment, children 5 to 11, and take into account developmental distinctions for children based on age. The experts said they believe complete asthma control is possible, but only if patients take their medications properly.
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways marked by wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness.
Inhaled corticosteroid drugs remain the best long-term treatment to control asthma, according to the guidelines.
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma — 22 million in the United States alone. Asthma kills about 3,780 Americans annually.