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This article is part of the supplement: Improving outcomes for asthma patients with allergic rhinitis

Open Access Review

Breaking new ground: challenging existing asthma guidelines

David Price* and Mike Thomas

Author Affiliations

Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill Health Centre, Westburn Road, Aberdeen AB25 2AY, UK

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2006, 6(Suppl 1):S6  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-6-S1-S6

Published: 30 November 2006

Abstract

Background

While we have international guidelines and various national guidelines for asthma diagnosis and management, asthma remains poorly controlled in many children and adults. In this paper we review the limitations of current asthma guidelines and describe important issues and remaining questions regarding asthma guidelines for use, particularly in primary care.

Discussion

Clinical practice guidelines based on evidence from randomized controlled trials are considered the most rigorous and accurate. Current evidence-based guidelines are written predominantly from the perspective of the patient with a clear-cut asthma diagnosis, however, and tend not to consider the heterogeneity of asthma or to accommodate individual patient variations in response to treatment or their needs, differences in practice settings, or local differences in availability and cost of therapies. The results of randomized controlled trials, which are designed to establish efficacy of treatment under ideal conditions, may not apply to 'real-world' clinical practice, where patients are unselected, monitoring is less frequent, and effectiveness – the benefit of treatment in routine clinical practice – is the most relevant outcome. Moreover, most guidelines see asthma in isolation rather than considering other factors that may impact on asthma and response to asthma therapy, particularly age, allergic rhinitis, cigarette smoking, adherence, and genetic factors. When these links are recognized, guidelines rarely provide practical recommendations for treatment in these scenarios. Finally, there is some evidence that general practitioners are not convinced of the applicability of asthma guidelines to their practice settings, especially when those writing the guidelines principally work in specialist practice.

Conclusion

Developing country-specific guidelines or, ideally, local guidelines could provide more practical solutions for asthma care and could account for regional factors that influence patient choice and adherence to therapy. Pragmatic clinical trials and well-designed observational trials are needed in addition to randomized controlled trials to assess real-world effectiveness of therapies, and such evidence needs also to be considered by guideline writers. Finally, practical tools to facilitate the diagnosis and assessment of asthma and factors responsible for poor control, such as associated allergic rhinitis, limited adherence, and smoking behavior, are needed to supplement treatment information provided in clinical practice guidelines for asthma.