More than half of the children being treated for asthma might not actually have the condition, new research suggests.
A study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found 53 per cent of children had no clinical signs of asthma despite being diagnosed at one of four medical centres in the Netherlands, whose healthcare system is widely regarded as one of the best in Europe.
In the UK last year, researchers found that a third of adults diagnosed with asthma did not actually have it.
Dr Ingrid Looijmans-van den Akker, one of the scientists behind the Dutch research, told The Daily Telegraph: “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.
“Previous studies have indicated that asthma is over-diagnosed in children. However, the scale of the over-diagnosis has not been quantified.
“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 UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) has warned that doctors have too often tended to diagnose asthma based on a history of wheezing, coughs and other breathing problems, rather than clinical tests.
Professor Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at Nice, said it was developing new advice on how to properly diagnose the condition.
“As part of this work, Nice is inviting GP practices to take part in a project to check the feasibility of some diagnostic tests that Nice proposes to recommend,” he said.
Dan Murphy, of Asthma UK, said asthma was “very difficult” to diagnose as it has “many complex causes”.
“It is also a highly variable condition that can change throughout someone’s life or even week by week, meaning treatment also needs to change over time,” he said.
“For example, children whose asthma is triggered by pollen may have no symptoms during an annual asthma review in winter and present completely differently in the summer.
“Parents of children with asthma must work in partnership with their GP or nurse to build a picture of their child’s asthma to tailor their treatment.”
Asthma costs the NHS about £1bn a year with a total of 5.4 million people diagnosed as having the condition.Reuse content