Around 10% of the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma have the most severe form, which leaves them unable to control their symptoms, resulting in frequent attacks – exacerbations – despite taking multiple high-strength medicines.
Researchers led by Dr Hannah Burke, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Southampton General Hospital, studied the impact of an appointment with a clinical psychologist on 13 patients who had two or more asthma-related hospital admissions in the previous year.
The patients were monitored for admissions to hospital and days in hospital in the six months before input from the psychologist and in the six months after.
Results, which were presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress, showed that, prior to the appointments, the group had experienced 19 asthma admissions and 159 days in hospital.
After psychological support was introduced, these totals decreased to 10 admissions and 93 days in hospital – a 42% reduction.
“People with severe asthma often experience symptoms that are difficult to treat and around 27% are thought to experience psychological problems,” said Dr Burke.
“There is current debate in the healthcare community about the best way to treat these people but, at present, it isn’t routinely addressed by asthma healthcare professionals.”
She explained that, although the study included a small number of patients, it could be a “key factor” in discussions over how to treat people with severe asthma in the future.
Dr Andrew Tan, who co-led the study, added: “We know that a significant proportion of these patients experience psychological issues and these results demonstrate that by tackling these problems, we can also help improve asthma symptoms.
“This not only helps to improve the quality of life for the patient, it also eases the burden on healthcare systems by reducing the amount of time these patients are in hospital.”