Children with asthma are more likely to be unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics for treatment compared to those who do not suffer from the condition, a study suggests. Asthma is a common and ongoing condition, and it has symptoms that could be mistaken for a respiratory tract infection. The findings show that asthma symptoms are being mistaken for a respiratory tract infection, or that the antibiotics are being given as a preventative measure, even though guidelines do not support this. Researchers from Erasmus University in The Netherlands found that children with asthma were about 1.6 times more likely to be prescribed antibiotics, compared to children who do not have asthma. They also found that antibiotic prescription rates were almost two-fold higher in the UK overall.
Since the pattern of over prescribing antibiotics to children with asthma was the same in both countries, the situation is likely to be the same elsewhere, researchers said. Overuse of antibiotics is leading to a rise in drug- resistant infections and unnecessary use in children could leave them more at risk of a future infection that is difficult to treat, researchers said. 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. “Antibiotics should only be given when there is clear evidence of a bacterial infection such as for pneumonia,” said Esme Baan from Erasmus University.
“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,” Baan said. “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,” Baan added. The researchers studied 1.5 million children from the UK, including around 150,000 with asthma, and a further 375,000 from The Netherlands, including around 30,000 with asthma. They compared antibiotic prescription data for children with and without asthma and the situation in The Netherlands with that in the UK.