Defining asthma in children: how well do parents, doctors and spirometry agree?

Koos Korsten, Christiana A Naaktgeboren, Louis J Bont, Cornelis K van der Ent, Marieke L A de Hoog

Background: Because diagnosing asthma in school-aged children is challenging, a variety of proxies for asthma are used in clinical practice and research settings as indicators of this disease. We aimed to provide insight into the agreement between various asthma indicators based on parental report, medical diagnosis and spirometry.

Methods: Children from the WHISTLER birth cohort performed spirometry and were followed up with parental ISAAC (International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood) questionnaires about asthma at 5 and 8 years of age. Medical data were extracted from primary care records. We compared 15 asthma indicators based on parental report, medical diagnosis and spirometry using positive agreement, κ statistics and latent class cluster analysis.

Results: At 5 years of age, 1007 children completed a study visit, while 803 children visited at 8 years of age. Depending on the indicator, the responder and child’s age, the asthma prevalence ranged from 0.2% to 26.6%. Cluster analysis revealed classes related to the presence of recent symptoms and a decreased lung function. Agreement between parents and doctors was generally low with κ coefficients ranging from 0.07 (recent wheeze) to 0.52 (recent asthma medication). Additionally, parental report showed to be sensitive to recall bias over time.

Conclusions: Dependent on the asthma indicator, the responder and the age of the child, substantial differences in agreement were observed between commonly used indicators associated with asthmatic disease in school-aged children. Most agreement between parents and doctors was seen for objective and recent indicators such as the recent use of asthma medication. We advocate caution when literature with different asthma indicators is compared.

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