Background: Treatment decisions in asthma are based on assessments of symptoms and simple measures of lung function, which do not relate closely to underlying eosinophilic airway inflammation. We aimed to assess whether a management strategy that minimises eosinophilic inflammation reduces asthma exacerbations compared with a standard management strategy.
Methods: We recruited 74 patients with moderate to severe asthma from hospital clinics and randomly allocated them to management either by standard British Thoracic Society asthma guidelines (BTS management group) or by normalisation of the induced sputum eosinophil count and reduction of symptoms (sputum management group). We assessed patients nine times over 12 months. The results were used to manage those in the sputum management group, but were not disclosed in the BTS group. The primary outcomes were the number of severe exacerbations and control of eosinophilic inflammation, measured by induced sputum eosinophil count. Analyses were by intention to treat.
Findings: The sputum eosinophil count was 63% (95% CI 24-100) lower over 12 months in the sputum management group than in the BTS management group (p=0.002). Patients in the sputum management group had significantly fewer severe asthma exacerbations than did patients in the BTS management group (35 vs 109; p=0.01) and significantly fewer patients were admitted to hospital with asthma (one vs six, p=0.047). The average daily dose of inhaled or oral corticosteroids did not differ between the two groups.
Interpretation: A treatment strategy directed at normalisation of the induced sputum eosinophil count reduces asthma exacerbations and admissions without the need for additional anti-inflammatory treatment.