Asthma :: Drug reduces unscheduled trips to doctor for childhood asthma attacks

Young children with attacks of sporadic, recurring asthma who were treated with the prescription drug montelukast by their parents had fewer unscheduled trips to the doctor, missed less days from school or childcare, and caused their parents to take fewer days off work for their care.

Results from this multi-center, randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial appear in the second issue for February 2007 of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

Colin F. Robertson, M.D., of the Department of Respiratory Medicine at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and eight associates studied 202 children, ages 2 to 14, who were given either montelukast or placebo by their parents when needed for one year. All of the children had intermittent, doctor-diagnosed asthma.

By the end of the year-long study, the patients treated with montelukast had 163 unscheduled health resource visits for their illness, as compared with 228 in the placebo group.

“Symptoms were reduced by 14 percent, nights awakened by 8.6 percent, days off from school or childcare by 37 percent and parent time off from work by 33 percent,” said Dr. Robertson.

In asthma, children’s airways become chronically inflamed, with various stimuli causing episodes of airway obstruction and breathing difficulties. The disease is the most common chronic disorder of childhood and affects an estimated 6.2 million children under age 18 in the U.S.

Intermittent asthma is the most common pattern of the disease in children, accounting for attacks in 75 percent of affected youngsters.

Montelukast sodium, a specific leukotriene receptor antagonist that has been shown to be effective in children, is used to prevent mild, persistent asthma. It reduces the swelling and inflammation that tend to close airways, and relaxes the walls of the bronchial tubes, allowing more air to pass through to the lungs.

“Acute episodes of asthma in young children place a significant burden on healthcare resources,” said Dr. Robertson. “Admission to the hospital for asthma in children aged 0 to 4 years is five times more common, and for those aged 5 to 14 years, twice as common as for adults who have asthma.”

The study was designed to evaluate parent-initiated therapy with montelukast at the onset of each upper respiratory infection or asthma symptom. Treatment continued for a minimum of seven days or until symptoms had resolved for 24 hours.

“A key component of the study was the impact of asthma on the family, as measured by days absent from school or childcare, nights of disturbed sleep, and the number of parent days lost from work,” said Dr. Robertson. “Furthermore, the strategy of parent-initiated therapy required children on average to take the study drug only 30 days per year, rather than 365, providing a further cost-benefit for the family.”

The authors noted that there was no significant reduction in specialist care, hospitalizations, duration of episodes, or use of beta-agonists and prednisolone as a result of montelukast study.

An analysis of cost showed that the use of montelukast resulted in a savings of $124 Australian dollars?about $96 U.S. dollars? or 29 percent less per treated episode than the placebo controlled arm of the trial.

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