Antibiotics are overused in patients with acute lower respiratory tract infections (ALRTIs), but less is known about their use in patients with asthma, or the use of asthma medication for ALRTI in patients without asthma. Our aim was to describe the frequency, variation and drivers in antibiotic and asthma medication prescribing for ALRTI in adults with and without asthma in primary care.
A retrospective cohort analysis of patients aged ≥12 years, diagnosed with an ALRTI in primary care in 2014–15 was conducted using data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Current asthma status, asthma medication and oral antibiotic use within 3 days of ALRTI infection was determined. Treatment frequency was calculated by asthma status. Mixed-effect regression models were used to explore between-practice variation and treatment determinants.
There were 127,976 ALRTIs reported among 110,418 patients during the study period, of whom 17,952 (16%) had asthma. Respectively, 81 and 79% of patients with and without asthma received antibiotics, and 41 and 15% asthma medication. There were significant differences in between-practice prescribing for all treatments, with greatest differences seen for oral steroids (odds ratio (OR) 18; 95% CI 7–82 and OR = 94; 33–363, with and without asthma) and asthma medication only (OR 7; 4–18 and OR = 17; 10–33, with and without asthma).
Independent predictors of antibiotic prescribing among patients with asthma included fewer previous ALRTI presentations (≥2 vs. 0 previous ALRTI: OR = 0.25; 0.16–0.39), higher practice (OR = 1.47; 1.35–1.60 per SD) and prior antibiotic prescribing (3+ vs. 1 prescriptions OR = 1.28; 1.04–1.57) and concurrent asthma medication (OR = 1.44; 1.32–1.57). Independent predictors of asthma medication in patients without asthma included higher prior asthma medication prescribing (≥7 vs. 0 prescriptions OR = 2.31; 1.83–2.91) and concurrent antibiotic prescribing (OR = 3.59; 3.22–4.01).
Findings from the study indicate that antibiotics are over-used for ALRTI, irrespective of asthma status, and asthma medication is over-used in patients without asthma, with between-practice variation suggesting considerable clinical uncertainty. Further research is urgently needed to clarify the role of these medications for ALRTI.