RESEARCHERS have developed a tool allowing for the detection of asthma risk in children as young as 2 years old. Asthma affects nearly 330 million people worldwide, and earlier detection would allow doctors to treat the children sooner, which would avoid hospitalisations and lower the costs of the condition to the healthcare system. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first non-invasive tool for the early detection of persistent wheeze and asthma to be validated in general and high-risk cohorts.
Due to the nature of conventional asthma tests, which involve skin pricks and blood tests, they are difficult to perform in children, and doctors and patients avoid them. The condition, therefore, goes undetected often in young children. Furthermore, these tests require specialised equipment and appointments with specialists. The new tool, CHART, can be used by nurses and doctors in a low-resource primary care setting and is non-invasive. It does not require special equipment and can be done on-the-spot. CHART can categorise children according to their risk of future asthma and persistent symptoms. Based on information collected before the age of 3, the tool can identify children as high-, moderate-, or low-risk, and recommend follow-up actions.
The longitudinal study CHILD was launched in 2008 to follow physical, social, and cognitive development of children in Canada. CHART was shown to predict which children would have a persistent wheeze by the age of 5 years with 91% accuracy. Of the children who were considered to be at high-risk, 50% were diagnosed with asthma by the age of 5 years; however, researchers believe that this is more accurate than this number suggests, due to the ambiguities in the definition of asthma. Regardless of this result, persistent wheeze also requires monitoring and treatment; therefore, the tool’s value is unquestionable. The tool was shown to be more accurate in the prediction of asthma, persistent wheeze, and related healthcare than other conventional diagnostic methods such as the modified asthma predictive index.
Malcolm Sears, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, said: “With information that can be easily gathered, CHART could be incorporated into electronic medical records as a routine assessment. These kids can then be evaluated more closely, their conditions treated and managed better, and many hospitalisations can be avoided.”