Asthma exacerbations in school-aged children peak in autumn, shortly after children return to school following the summer holiday. This might reflect a combination of risk factors, including poor treatment adherence, increased allergen and viral exposure, and altered immune tolerance. Since this peak is predictable, interventions targeting modifiable risk factors might reduce exacerbation-associated morbidity and strain upon health resources. The peak occurs in September in the Northern Hemisphere and in February in the Southern Hemisphere.
To assess the effects of pharmacotherapy and behavioural interventions enacted in anticipation of school return during autumn that are designed to reduce asthma exacerbations in children during this period.
We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Trials Register, ClinicalTrials.gov, the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, reference lists of primary studies and existing reviews, and manufacturers' trial registries (Merck, Novartis and Ono Parmaceuticals). We searched databases from their inception to 1 December 2017, and imposed no restriction on language of publication.
We included all randomised controlled trials comparing interventions aimed specifically at reducing autumn exacerbations with usual care, (no systematic change in management in preparation for school return). We included studies providing data on children aged 18 years or younger.
We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Two review authors independently screened records identified by the search and then extracted data and assessed bias for trials meeting the inclusion criteria. A third review author checked for accuracy and mediated consensus on disagreements. The primary outcome was proportion of children experiencing one or more asthma exacerbations requiring hospitalisation or oral corticosteroids during the autumn period.
Our searches returned 546 trials, of which five met our inclusion criteria. These studies randomised 14,252 children to receive either an intervention or usual care. All studies were conducted in the Northern Hemisphere. Three interventions used a leukotriene receptor antagonist, one used omalizumab or a boost of inhaled corticosteroids, and the largest study, (12,179 children), used a medication reminder letter. Whilst the risk of bias within individual studies was generally low, we downgraded the evidence quality due to imprecision associated with low participant numbers, poor consistency between studies, and indirect outcome ascertainment.A US study of 513 children with mild/severe asthma and allergic sensitisation was the only study to provide data for our primary outcome. In this study, the proportion of participants experiencing an exacerbation requiring oral corticosteroids or hospital admission in the 90 days after school return was significantly reduced to 11.3% in those receiving omalizumab compared to 21.0% in those receiving placebo (odds ratio 0.48, 95% confidence interval 0.25 to 0.92, moderate-quality evidence). The remaining studies used alternative exacerbation definitions. When data from two leukotriene receptor antagonist studies with comparable outcomes were combined in a random-effects model, there was no evidence of an effect upon exacerbations. There was no evidence that a seasonal medication reminder letter decreased unscheduled contacts for a respiratory diagnosis between September and December.Four studies recorded adverse events. There was no evidence that the proportion of participants experiencing at least one adverse event differed between intervention and usual care groups. Lack of data prevented planned subgroup and sensitivity analyses.
Seasonal omalizumab treatment from four to six weeks before school return might reduce autumn asthma exacerbations. We found no evidence that this strategy is associated with increased adverse effects other than injection site pain, but it is costly. There were no data upon which to judge the effect of this or other seasonal interventions on asthma control, quality of life, or asthma-related death. In future studies definitions of exacerbations should be provided, and standardised where possible. To investigate possible differential effects according to subgroup, participants in future trials should be well characterised with respect to baseline asthma severity and exacerbation history in addition to age and gender.