Objective. To investigate racial/ethnic differences in acute asthma among children who present to the emergency department (ED).

Method. We analyzed data from 2 prospective cohort studies performed during 1997–1998 as part of the Multicenter Airway Research Collaboration. Using a standardized protocol, researchers at 40 EDs in 18 US states provided 24-hour-per-day coverage for a median of 2 weeks per year. Children with acute asthma were interviewed in the ED and by telephone 2 weeks after discharge.

Results. Among 1095 patients, 679 (62%) were black, 256 (23%) were Hispanic, and 160 (15%) were white. Black and Hispanic children had greater histories of lifetime (63%, 64%, 46%) and past-year (34%, 31%, 14%) hospitalization and more ED visits in the past year (medians: 2, 3, 1). Asthma severity at ED presentation, ED management and course, hospitalization during the index visit, discharge prescriptions, and postdischarge outcomes were equivalent among all race/ethnic groups.

Conclusion. Despite pronounced race/ethnicity-based differences in chronic asthma, all racial/ethnic groups exhibited similar acute asthma severity, ED management, and course. However, given that black and Hispanic children exhibited much higher admission histories and past ED use, the equivalence in inhaled corticosteroid prescriptions on discharge is a disconcerting pattern that mirrors previous literature on outpatient prescription practices. In addition to barriers attributable to socioeconomic factors, health care providers and policy makers should target equalizing deficiencies in preventive medication prescription practices.

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