Fewer hospital stays for asthma reported for Canadian children and teens

Despite a decrease in hospitalizations, asthma continues to be one of the leading causes of hospital stays for people younger than 20.

Research says more than half with asthma don't have it under control

U.S. swimmer Shannon Vreeland uses an inhaler during a practice in 2012. Researchers in Canada and the U.S. say hospitalization rates among children and youth have decreased. (Lee Jin-man/Associated Press)

Hospitalizations for asthma among Canadian boys and girls fell over the past 10 years, but those living in lower-income neighbourhoods continue to have higher rates of the airway disease, according to a new report.

Despite the improvement overall, asthma continues to be one of the leading causes of hospital stays among people under the age of 20, the Canadian Institute for Health Information says.

New data released on Thursday by the institute shows asthma hospitalization rates declined steadily between 2006 and 2015. Specifically, the rate of Canadians younger than 20 being hospitalized for asthma dropped from 154 hospitalizations per 100,000 population to 75.

Researchers in the United States and many European countries have noted similar trends.

Improvements in prevention, treatment and management of the disease over the past decade could be responsible, the CIHI authors said.

"This large drop means people with asthma, and their caregivers and family members, are better now at keeping their disease under control. This improves their quality of life, reduces their risks of having asthma attacks which can be dangerous, and also reduces the costs to the health-care system," said Chris Haromy, a registered respiratory therapist and educator with the Lung Association's Ontario chapter.

Inequities persist

But Haromy said there's still work to do, since the research suggests more than half of those with asthma do not have it under control.

Haromy said possible reasons for the higher rates of hospitalization among young people living in lower-income neighbourhoods include:

  •    Reduced access to asthma medications and medication devices, for instance because of cost.
  •    Reduced access to asthma education programs.
  •    Increased exposure to asthma allergens and irritants such as mould and cockroach allergens, second-hand smoke and pollution on major roads.

The report's authors noted inequalities in health and health care generally are persisting or worsening with time. For instance, smoking rates generally declined between 2003 to 2013. The exception was among people in the lowest income group.

They said neighbourhood income-related inequalities continued across all provinces except in British Columbia.

The authors made some suggestions to address inequalities, including:

  • Adapt educational tools for those with low health literacy, such as through drawings.
  • Talk to patients about their goals in dealing with asthma.
  • Introduce programs based in schools and in the community.
  • Address the cost of asthma medication as Quebec and Ontario's drug plans do.

About 15 per cent of children and youth in Canada were living with asthma in 2013 to 2014, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported last year.