, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 11–24 | Cite as

Long-Acting β- Agonist Treatment in Patients with Persistent Asthma Already Receiving Inhaled Corticosteroids

Current Opinion


International guidelines recommend that long-acting β-agonists should be considered in patients who are symptomatic despite moderate doses of inhaled corticosteroids. When combined with inhaled corticosteroids they improve asthma symptoms and lung function and reduce exacerbations. The evidence suggests that they are well tolerated. However, they are less effective than inhaled corticosteroids as monotherapy and should not be used alone, although the addition of a long-acting β-agonist may permit a small reduction in the corticosteroid dose. Both salmeterol and formoterol appear equally effective in improving asthma control. Formoterol, however, has a rapid onset of action and is now being promoted for the relief of acute asthma symptoms. Both drugs provide prolonged protection against exercise-induced bronchospasm. However, this effect rapidly diminishes with continuous therapy and if this is the main aim of treatment, intermittent use may be preferable.

When compared with alternative treatments, inhaled long-acting β-agonists are more effective in controlling asthma symptoms than either theophylline or antileukotriene agents. Bambuterol, an oral prodrug of terbutaline, appears to be as effective as the inhaled long-acting β-agonists and has the advantage of once daily oral administration. However, the inhaled long-acting β-agonists are less likely to have systemic adverse effects.

There are theoretical concerns that regular β-agonist treatment may lead to tolerance and a failure to respond to emergency asthma treatment. While there is no doubt that tolerance occurs, there is currently little evidence that this is a clinical problem.

Insights into pharmacological as well as therapeutic interactions between inhaled corticosteroids and β-agonists are providing justification for their use in combination. Guidelines for the management of patients with chronic persistent asthma are likely to require modification to reflect these developments.


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© Adis International Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical and Surgical SciencesDunedin School of Medicine, University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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