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Childhood Asthma Is So Overdiagnosed That Inhalers Have Become A ‘Fashion Accessory,’ Experts Say

Medical Daily reported this news from the United Kingdom – when you see headlines like these, do you get angry? Frustrated? Or do you agree with some part of it?

Anyone suffering from asthma knows that going undiagnosed would be annoying at best and life-threatening at worst. In the past, doctors did under-diagnose the condition, but some experts are saying the pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction — asthma is being overdiagnosed, and inhalers have “almost become a fashion accessory.”

Professor Andrew Bush and Dr. Louise Fleming of Imperial College and Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust say the inhalers are being dispensed with no good reason and this is a significant issue not only because of the high cost of inhalers, but because of their side effects as well.

“Inhaled corticosteroids, when properly used, dramatically improve quality of life and reduce the risk of asthma attacks and mortality,” they write in the study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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Comments 6

  • K8sMom2002

     I think it makes it harder for those of us who do require inhalers and who do try hard to avoid environmental triggers such as cigarette smoke. Sure, there may be doctors who are quick to prescribe the latest and greatest inhaler in their samples drawer, but that doesn't mean there isn't a genuine need for some — maybe even most. I'd rather know I had an inhaler and not have to use it than need an inhaler and not have it because a doctor didn't prescribe one for fear of over prescribing. 

  • Jen

    Anytime there is a headline that mentions a medical condition being overdiagnosed, it can be frustrating.  I think there is some truth to the idea that overdiagnosis of conditions may lead the general public not to take the condiditons seriously.  However, I'd much rather people get the help they need than have them afraid to seek help bc they think things are overdiagnosed.  I would also rather have drs diagnose various conditions rather than not do so bc I think people might slide under the radar and not get the help they need for this reason as well.

  • HikaControl

    I also think that the past years, asthma has been over diagnosed. I am not yet 30 but when I was a kid, it seemed that I was the only one who had asthma. Other people would ask me then what is asthma. Now, it seems that every wheezing is "asthma".

    I thought asthma was supposedly an overreaction of the immune system to non-hazardous things, not simply coughing or wheezing. 

  • Kathy P

    Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to things that should be benign. Allergic reactions can trigger asthma. But there are many other asthma triggers besides immune reaction. For instance, can trigger asthma, but the mechanism is not the immune system. 

    This is a good visual for :

  • HikaControl

    I believe these are symptoms of asthma, quite similar to others. I read somewhere that many mistake viral wheezing (?) for asthma. Symptoms are similar but underlying causes are different. It is very possible that people who do not have asthma are labeled as asthmatics because of the similarities in symptoms.

    Asthmatics (genetic) tend to also have eczema and rhinitis — conditions that relate to immune system.

    I understand that pollution and scent are triggers. But they are not the underlying cause of asthma, just as much as pollens do not "cause" the allergies per se, but triggers allergic reaction. The cause of the allergies would be the immune system overreacting to pollens that are not really a threat but the immune system, for unknown reason, sees it at a threat.

  • Kathy P

    In some cases, it's termed "reactive airway disorder" or RAD when symptoms relate to viral illness. The diagnosis usually doesn't get changed over to asthma until there is a pattern.

    And you are right, that the atopic trifecta is asthma, eczema, and allergies. But there are people who have exercise induced asthma which is not triggered by allergies. People with asthma tend to have "twitchy" lungs that react to different things including hormone swings (one reason why some have worse symptoms at night).