Regular short-acting inhaled beta-agonist therapy is of uncertain benefit in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We conducted a randomized, concealed, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial in two periods, each of 3-mo duration, involving 53 patients with a smoking history of > 20 pack-years, an FEV1 of < 70% predicted, and an FEV1/VC ratio of < 0.7 after inhalation of 200 microg albuterol. All patients received regular ipratropium bromide at 20 microg per puff in 2 puffs four times daily, beclomethasone at 250 microg per puff or equivalent corticosteroid in 2 puffs twice daily, and open-label inhaled albuterol as needed. Interventional therapy consisted of regular inhaled albuterol (100 microg per puff, in 2 puffs four times daily) versus placebo. Patients used twice as much active albuterol in the regular use period (mean: 8.07 puffs of coded and 4.68 puffs of open-label medication; total: 12.75 puffs daily) than during the as-needed period (mean: 6.34 puffs of open-label albuterol daily). Despite greater beta-agonist use, patients showed similar results during treatment and control periods for all outcomes. Differences between active and placebo periods were: FEV1: -0.04 L (95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.09 to 0.01 L); slow vital capacity: 0.04 L (95% CI: -0.12 to 0.20 L); 6-min walk test distance: -3.1 m (95% CI: -16.8 to 10.5 m); and Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire scores for dyspnea: 0.02 (95% CI: -0.13 to 0.16); fatigue: -0.02 (95% CI: -0.25 to 0.20); mastery: 0.01 (95% CI: -0.20 to 0.24); and emotional function: 0.02 (95% CI: -0.20 to 0.24). We found that in patients with COPD, use of regular short-acting inhaled beta-agonists resulted in twice as much beta-agonist use without physiologic or clinical benefit as did use on an as-needed basis.