Statement: Children are being prescribed unnecessary antibiotics

Children with asthma are 1.6 times more likely to be prescribed antibiotics compared to children without asthma, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

Researchers from Erasmus University, in Rotterdam, compared antibiotic prescription data for children with and without asthma in the UK and The Netherlands. Analysis of the 1.5 million children.

from the UK, including 150,000 with asthma, showed there were 374 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 children with asthma per year, compared to 250 per 1,000 children without asthma.

In The Netherlands, there were 197 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 children with asthma per year, compared to 126 prescriptions per 1,000 children without asthma.

Overuse of antibiotics is leading to a rise in drug-resistant infections. The researchers say their study may indicate that asthma symptoms are being mistaken for respiratory tract infections such as chest infections, bronchitis, tonsillitis and laryngitis. 

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, said: “This study indicates that asthma symptoms might be being mistaken for a respiratory tract infection, highlighting the need for urgent action to be taken to improve people’s understanding of asthma.

“Current guidelines for healthcare professionals on how to treat asthma do not recommend automatically prescribing antibiotics after an asthma attack. But studies show that more than half of people who have asthma attacks are prescribed antibiotics anyway – either because it’s hard to tell the difference between a bacterial infection and asthma-related inflammation, or because patients have asked for antibiotics.

“It is important that international guidelines on asthma treatment are followed to prevent a rise in the number of drug resistant infections.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact the Asthma UK media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

The Asthma UK Data Portal is a new online tool for journalists to access the latest figures and trends in asthma outcomes across the UK. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

About Asthma UK

  • In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
  • Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk