Concern over scale of asthma epidemic: Number of children affected could be double previous estimate

THE GROWING asthma epidemic could be far worse than doctors believe, according to a study which has found that a significant proportion of asthmatic children are going undiagnosed.

About 9 per cent of children are diagnosed as having asthma, which is almost twice as high as a decade or more ago. The latest survey of schoolchildren, however, suggests the true prevalence could be as high as 16 per cent.

Derek Williams, a GP from Woking in Surrey, led the research team that tested 237 children aged between 8 and 12 years from mixed socio-economic backgrounds attending a state school in Weybridge.

He found that besides the 22 known asthmatic children in the school, there were another 19 who failed a standard respiratory test for asthma which measures the ability to expel air from the lungs following a bout of intense excercise.

Six of the 22 children known to have asthma also failed the test, indicating they are not being treated 'optimally', Dr Williams added.

Although medical researchers have suspected that asthma is under-reported, with many patients going untreated as a result, the school survey suggests the problem is worse than suspected, according to Professor Ann Tattersfield, a leading asthma expert at Nottingham City Hospital.

'There is a problem sometimes of asthma being missed and untreated, but I think the problem is less now than before. I'm surprised at the number of undiagnosed cases this study appears to have identified,' she said.

Martyn Partridge, chairman of the National Asthma Campaign, said that prevalence figures on childhood asthma varied from 1 per cent in China to 26 per cent in Australia. 'So we are in that sort of range with these figures. However I think there is still underdiagnosis of asthma.'

Dr Williams used the 'free-running asthma screening test' to determine whether the children were asthmatic, when inflammation causes narrowing of the airways to the lungs which can lead to severe breathing difficulties.

Under medical supervision, the children where asked to run as fast as they could for five minutes, followed by a five-minute rest before blowing as hard as they could into a breathing monitor.

'We're very confident that we are picking up undiagnosed asthmatic children,' Dr Williams said. Interviews with them revealed that they were often wrongly treated for respiratory infections rather than asthma and some were losing up to 50 days of schooling a year as a result, he added.

Dr Williams and his colleagues argue in this month's issue of the Archives of Diseases in Childhood that the research shows the importance of using the respiratory test in schools. 'Previously undiagnosed children with asthma could be identified and the control of children with known asthma could be monitored,' they say.

Asthma is one of the fastest growing illnesses in Britain today with severe attacks killing about 2,000 people a year. A range of environmental factors are implicated, ranging from house-dust mites to exhaust emissions.

The National Asthma Campaign yesterday called on the Government to extend its Health of the Nation strategy to include asthma. It said the move would be supported by 70 per cent of MPs.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate