Potential misdiagnosis of asthma in children

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory respiratory condition that causes coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. It can be diagnosed at any age, but it often starts in childhood.

When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways, the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell. These reactions make it difficult to breathe, which can lead to chest tightening, wheezing or coughing.

It is often difficult to identify a specific cause of the condition, but triggers can include animal fur, pollen, smoke, exercise and house dust mites. A trigger is anything which starts your asthma symptoms or makes them worse. It is also possible to have several triggers and sometime it can be difficult to work out what your triggers are.

There is no cure for asthma and treatment is based on relieving future symptoms and preventing future attacks. For most people this generally means taking daily medication in the form of an inhaler.

Unfortunately, there is no one specific test which can definitively diagnose asthma and this can make it difficult to do in a primary care setting.

Sarah Knapton, Science Editor at The Telegraph reported that recent research has suggested that half a million children who have been diagnosed with asthma may not actually have the chronic lung condition.

The Telegraph reported that in a new study published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, The Netherlands, looked at the medical records of 656 children diagnosed with asthma at four centres, 53 per cent were found to have no clinical signs of the condition.

Dr Ingrid Looijmans-van den Akker, said: “Over-diagnosis of asthma was found in more than half of the children, leading to unnecessary treatment, disease burden, and impact on their quality of life.  Only in a few children was the diagnosis of asthma confirmed using lung function tests, despite this being recommended in international guidelines. Over-diagnosis gives rise to over-prescription and incorrect use of medication, and to anxiety in parents and children.”

The National Institute of Clinical Practice said that too often doctors were basing their diagnosis on case history rather than any clinical tests. Consequently, they are currently drafting new guidelines advising doctors to use more clinical tests to back up their judgment and avoid the danger of wrongly diagnosing someone with asthma.

If you have any concerns about your child’s diagnosis, then it is imperative this is discussed with your child’s doctor.