About half of children being treated for asthma may not actually have the condition, a new report conducted by Dutch researchers suggests.
One of its possible implications is that tens of thousands of children may be taking medications such as inhaled steroids that they do not really need.
The report, which is featured in the British Journal of General Practice, said that doctors are failing to carry out proper, detailed lung tests that would give definitive diagnosis. Instead, too many children are being labeled as asthmatic on symptoms alone.
Researchers from the University Medical Center in Utrecht, The Netherlands looked at the medical records of 656 youngsters in the country who were aged 6 to 18 said to have asthma. However, they found that about 54 percent of the children did not have any clinical signs of the condition.
Netherlands consistently tops surveys of the best healthcare across Europe, and so experts are worried that the problem could even be worse in the United Kingdom.
Last year, the health watchdog called The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) warned that more than a million of adults diagnosed with asthma have been over-diagnosed and are being given over-prescribed drugs.
Dr. Ingrid Looijmans-van den Akker, one of the researchers of the new report, said over-diagnosis of asthma leads to disease burden, unnecessary treatments and an overall impact on the children's quality of life.
"Over-diagnosis gives rise to over-prescription and incorrect use of medication, and to anxiety in parents and children," she said.
Meanwhile, Nice has said that doctors too often tend to diagnose asthma based on a history of coughing, wheezing and other breathing problems instead of performing clinical tests.
Nice Director of Clinical Practice Mark Baker said the group is developing new guidelines on how to properly diagnose the condition.
Over-treatment is a major concern because some of the medications used to treat asthma have several side effects such as throat infections, muscle cramps, tremors, nausea and vomiting, according to The Telegraph.
Dan Murphy of Asthma UK said it is often difficult to get a definitive diagnosis for asthma because it has many complex causes.
"It is also a highly variable condition that can change throughout someone's life or even week by week, meaning treatment also needs to change over time," added Murphy.
Photo : Salim Fadhley | Flickr