Study objective: Many persons with asthma self-medicate with widely available and potentially hazardous nonprescription medicines. This study assessed the demographic and clinical covariates of self-treatment with over-the-counter asthma medications (OTCs).
Design and setting: We conducted an analytical investigation using questionnaires and measures of lung function, comparing OTC and prescription medication users. We recruited adults with asthma by public advertisement.
Subjects: We studied 22 exclusive prescription asthma medication users, 15 exclusive OTC users, and 13 other subjects who combined prescription medication use with self-treatment with asthma OTCs. All but one OTC user self-medicated with a nonselective, sympathomimetic metered-dose inhaler.
Results: Taking income, access to care, and self-assessed disease severity into account, male gender was strongly associated with exclusive OTC use alone (odds ratio [OR]=8.9, 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.3 to 61) and mixed OTC-prescription medication use (OR=9.7, 95% CI=1.1 to 83). The covariates of income, access to care, and self-assessed disease severity provided significant additional explanatory power to the model of exclusive OTC use (model χ2 difference 11.3, 5 df, p<0.05). Pulmonary function was similar among OTC and prescription medication users. However, prescription medication users' self-assessed asthma severity (mild compared to more severe) was associated with postbronchodilator reversibility of FEV1 obstruction (6% vs 18% reversibility, p<0.05) while exclusive OTC users' self-assessed severity showed the reverse pattern (19% vs 8%, p=0.2).
Conclusion: Asthma education programs attempting to discourage unregulated bronchodilator use should give consideration to this profile of the "asthmatic-at-risk."