This means that around 1.2 million UK adults could be wrongly receiving asthma treatment and taking unnecessary medication. Some may have had asthma in the past, but it is likely that many have been given an incorrect diagnosis.
Although there is no 'gold standard' test for diagnosing asthma, NICE has issued a draft guideline for healthcare professionals to diagnose asthma and help those affected to control their symptoms. The guidelines advise tests such as spirometry, checking for levels of nitric oxide and assessing whether standard medicines which widen the airways of the lungs will be beneficial, along with recommendations for monitoring how well a patient is controlling their symptoms.
Asthma occurs when a person encounters something that irritates their lungs and causes the small airways to become inflamed and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Resulting symptoms include breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.
Professor Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at NICE said: “Asthma is a long-term incurable condition that affects millions of people of all ages. If left untreated asthma attacks can be life threatening. However, with appropriate treatment and thoughtful monitoring, most people will be able to successfully control their symptoms and be spared from serious harm.
Accurate diagnosis of asthma has been a significant problem which means that people may be wrongly diagnosed or cases might be missed in others. Our aim with this guideline is to give clarity and set out the most clinical and cost effective ways to diagnose and monitor asthma based on the best available evidence.”
Asthma and the workplace
Occupational asthma may account for between 9 and 15% of adult onset asthma. It is the most common industrial lung disease in the developed world, with over 400 reported causes.
Around 1 in 10 of adults with asthma develops the condition because they are exposed to certain substances, such as chemicals or dust, in their workplace. (We suggest that employers consider using air purifiers in their workplaces).
The draft guideline also recommends that healthcare professionals should ask employed people how their symptoms are affected by work to check if they may have occupational asthma.
Anyone who is concerned is advised to talk to their doctor.