Don't Delay Emergency Care When Asthma Flare-Ups Strike

Study found waiting led to worse outcomes, including hospitalization

MONDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- Asthma patients who delay seeking emergency medical care when the condition flares can suffer worse outcomes, including hospitalization.

That's the finding of a study that included 296 asthma patients in two New York City emergency departments. They were asked about the duration of their asthma symptoms and their attempts at self-management before they decided to go to the emergency department.

Two-thirds of the patients waited five days or less before they sought medical treatment and one-third waited longer than five days.

Patients who waited longer were more likely to be sicker when they arrived at the emergency department, more likely to arrive by ambulance, and more likely to be admitted to the hospital.

The study also found that patients who waited longer and those who sought treatment earlier were about equally likely to have health insurance (80 percent), to consult a physician before coming to the emergency department (23 percent and 18 percent, respectively), and to have used drugs called beta-agonists (albuterol, for example), which are typically prescribed to treat asthma flare-ups.

The study is slated to be presented Monday at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) international conference in Denver.

"An important aspect of managing asthma is for patients to realize when they can handle exacerbations with help from their regular doctors, and when they need the more intense treatment the emergency room provides," study author Dr. Carol Mancuso, an associate professor of medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City, said in an ATS news release.

"It is preferable to get help early from regular doctors and avoid the emergency room. However, when intense treatment is necessary, then the sooner the patients present to the emergency room the better, because then they are not as sick and are less likely to be hospitalized," she added.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about asthma.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, May 16, 2011

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