FeNO breath test could lead to fewer asthma deaths and huge cost savings for the NHS

A 10-SECOND breath test could help reduce deaths from asthma as well as saving the NHS millions of pounds, according to new research by leading clinicians.

The test, which measures airways inflammation in asthma patients, has recently been recommended for NHS use, but whether sufferers are offered it is still down to individual GPs.

Now, new research has been released showing a win-win situation for clinicians and patients.

Not only does the test, which looks at fractional exhaled nitric oxide, or FeNO levels, which are higher in many people with asthma than those without, have the potential to cut the number of deaths from asthma attacks, it could also lead to huge savings for the NHS.

A study by leading clinicians in the US, published in a specialist medical journal, followed patients aged from seven to 60 as their doctors decided on the best medication for their condition.

It found that without carrying out a FeNO test, clinicians weren’t able to correctly assess how inflamed a patient’s airways were in half of cases.

Having FeNO results on hand led to treatment decisions being changed for more than a third of patients. Twenty per cent of those patients had their medication increased while 16 per cent were found not to need as much as originally thought.

As well as benefits for patients, the researchers, from North Carolina, found carrying out FeNO tests along with usual asthma care could save health services massive sums.

Because patients are more likely to be given the right medication and suffer fewer asthma attacks, the study estimated that savings of nearly £400 per patient per year could be made.

Considering that, according to Asthma UK, there are 5.4m people in the UK who suffer from asthma, that could mean millions of pounds of savings for the NHS.

The authors conclude in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Journal that knowledge of FeNO results affects treatment decisions, which has “important long-term asthma management implications, most notably the potential to lower the costs and morbidity associated with asthma exacerbation.”

A separate study, the first in Europe to set down evidence about the cost effectiveness of FeNO found the test could save around £430 per patient. Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, it was based on research which monitored more than 600 patients for a year.

David Plotts, UK general manager for Aerocrine, which makes handheld devices to test FeNO levels said: “There’s an ever-growing body of research which shows that testing FeNO levels can aid more accurate diagnosis and prescribing, reduce asthma attacks and lead to significant savings for healthcare services. We’re hopeful these latest studies will raise awareness among patients and doctors and lead to the test becoming more widely available.”

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