Kids with asthma are more likely to be prescribed antibiotics, despite the fact that they don’t need them more than kids without asthma, according to a study that is slated to be presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.
Researchers from Erasmus University in the Netherlands pointed out that it’s possible that asthma symptoms are being mistaken for respiratory tract infections, leading healthcare worker to prescribe antibiotics. They also said it’s possible that antibiotics are being doled out to kids with asthma as a preventative measure.
“Asthma is a common and ongoing condition, and it has symptoms that could be mistaken for a respiratory tract infection. However, international and national guidelines clearly state that antibiotics should not be given for a deterioration in asthma symptoms, because this is rarely associated with a bacterial infection,” Dr. Esme Baan said in prepared remarks.
“Inappropriate use of antibiotics can be bad for individual patients and the entire population, and makes it harder to control the spread of untreatable infections.”
The study, which included 1.5 million kids in the U.K. and 375,000 from the Netherlands, compared antibiotic prescription data for kids with and without asthma.
The Netherlands and the U.K. adhere to the same international guidelines on asthma treatment, which recommend that antibiotics not be used to address exacerbations of the condition.
The team found that kids with asthma were 1.6 times more likely to be prescribed antibiotics compared to children without asthma. They also found that the antibiotic prescription rates were almost two-fold higher in the U.K.
In both places, amoxicillin was the most commonly-prescribed antibiotic, the researchers reported.
The Netherlands has low antibiotic use compared to the rest of the world, so the team hypothesized that the situation could be far worse in countries where antibiotic use is much higher – like Italy or Spain.
“Antibiotics should only be given when there is clear evidence of a bacterial infection such as for pneumonia. However, we saw that, in children with asthma, most of the antibiotic prescriptions in children were intended for asthma exacerbations or bronchitis, which are often caused by a virus rather than bacteria. It can be difficult for a GP to differentiate between a deterioration in asthma symptoms and a bacterial respiratory infection. We think this might be leading to more antibiotic prescriptions in children with asthma,” Baan added.
“Children with uncontrolled asthma can face difficulties over several years, for example it can affect their ability to play and take part in sport, they may have more days off school, or experience disturbed sleep. We don’t want to compound this with prescribing drugs that won’t help and may be harmful. Of course, sometimes antibiotics are needed, but we should be careful and only prescribe them when they are really required. In general, we should discourage GPs from prescribing unnecessary antibiotics or run the risk of more drug-resistant infections in the future.”