Medical and Social Determinants of Health Associated with Intensive Care Admission for Asthma in Children

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Risk factors for severe asthma exacerbations in children requiring admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) may occur in variety of medical, environmental, economic, and socioeconomic domains.


We sought to characterize medical and sociodemographic risk factors among children who required admission to the intensive care unit for asthma.


Data were obtained from the Greater Cincinnati Asthma Risk Study, a population-based, prospective, observational cohort of children admitted for treatment of acute asthma or bronchodilator-responsive wheezing. Data collected on 774 children included race, socioeconomic status, allergen sensitization, environmental exposures, psychosocial strain, and financial hardship. Analyses compared children admitted to the ICU to those admitted to a medical inpatient unit.

Measurements and Main Results:

One hundred sixty-one (20.9%) children required admission to intensive care. There was no difference in sex, race, insurance status, caregiver educational level, income, financial strain, psychological distress, or marital status between the ICU and non-ICU cohorts. Risk for medication nonadherence assessed by parent report was not different between groups. Although previous hospital admission or emergency department visit history did not differ between the groups, prior ICU admission was more common among those admitted to the ICU at the index admission (27 vs. 16%, P = 0.002). Children requiring intensive care admission were more likely to be sensitized to multiple aeroallergens. Exposure to cigarette smoke (measured as salivary cotinine), although a risk factor for hospital admission, was negatively associated with risk of ICU admission.


Social and economic risk factors typically predictive of increased asthma morbidity, including exposure to tobacco smoke, were not associated with ICU admission among a population of children admitted to the hospital for treatment of acute asthma. Intrinsic disease factors, including allergic sensitization, may be more important predictors of ICU admission.

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