Inhaled Steroids Ease Asthma Attacks

Regular Use Keeps Asthmatics Out of the Hospital

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 1, 2002 -- Have asthma and want to stay out of the hospital? A new study suggests that taking your inhaled steroid is one big key to making this happen.

Inhaled steroids -- strong anti-inflammatory drugs -- are one of the main treatments for preventing an asthma attack. Researchers say earlier studies have already shown that inhaled steroids can not only prevent asthma attacks but can help keep people out of the hospital in the short term. This study now shows the preventive medications can also have a big impact over the long run.

Inhaled steroids, such as Flovent, Vanceril, and Advair Diskus, are designed to be taken regularly to reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes and help asthma sufferers breathe more easily.

In the study, Canadian researchers followed more than 30,000 people with asthma, aged 5-44, for more than 20 years. About 42 out of every 1,000 patients were admitted to the hospital each year.

But regular use of inhaled steroids reduced overall admission rates by 31% and re-admission rates by 39%. The inhalers continued to help beyond the first four years, but only if they were used regularly and consistently.

Their findings appear in the October issue of the journal Thorax.

"This study strongly suggests that it is not the use -- but regular use -- of inhaled [steroids] that is essential to the effectiveness of these drugs," says researcher Samy Suissa, MD, of the division of clinical epidemiology at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and colleagues. "In addition, this effectiveness is sustained in the long term as long as the medications are taken regularly."

The researchers estimate that for every 1,000 people with asthma, consistent use of steroid inhalers could prevent five admissions and 27 re-admissions a year.

Researchers say only about 15-20% of asthma patients who are prescribed inhaled steroids actually use them regularly.