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Reliable Method Developed for Measuring Asthma Symptoms in Latino Children

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Research Alert: February 29, 2000

A new Spanish-English scale for measuring the control of asthma symptoms in low-income Latino children has been developed, tested and found reliable in a study led by Marielena Lara, M.D., M.P.H., of the UCLA/RAND Program on Latino Children with Asthma. Peter Gergen, M.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Center for Primary Care Research, was a co-author of the study.

Asthma is increasing rapidly among children. Between 1980 and 1994, for example, asthma among children in the United States 5 to 14 years of age increased by 74 percent, and the disease is the most common chronic illness affecting Latino children. But few reliable measures exist for measuring the severity and frequency of asthma's symptoms in non-English-speaking and low-literacy populations, in spite of findings that language and literacy levels can affect the reliability and validity of survey measures.

The eight-item instrument asks parents, in English and Spanish, to indicate the frequency of their child's symptoms on a scale ranging from "every day" to "never," and it includes a "don't know" response. The symptoms listed are: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma attacks and chest pain. The instrument also asks parents to indicate how often their child has been awakened at night because of asthma during the previous four weeks, and to indicate their overall rating of the severity of their child's asthma.

The symptom scale was tested by interviewing parents of 234 inner-city children treated for asthma in an emergency department at the time of their initial visit and one month later. About 69 percent of the children, whose average age was nine, were identified by their parents as being Latino. Over half (54 percent) the interviews of parents about their children's symptoms were conducted in Spanish; the rest were conducted in English. There were no major differences in the reliability and validity of the responses between the Spanish- and English-speaking parents.

Details are in "An English and Spanish Pediatric Asthma Symptom Scale," published in the March 2000 issue of the journal, Medical Care.

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Karen Migdail, (301) 427-1855 (

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