We evaluated asthma control and medication use 5 years after introduction of an inhaled corticosteroid (budesonide via Turbuhaler) in 462 patients with persistent asthma and symptoms of different duration. An early treatment group with symptoms for <2 years (group A) was compared with a delayed treatment group (group B) (median duration 5 years and 3 months). Most patients received budesonide 400 microg twice daily as initial dose. We report 5-year follow-up data on 404 patients (group A n = 253; group B n = 151) and on a few more patients after treatment for 6 months, 1 year and 3 years. At 5 years the mean maintenance doses of budesonide were 412 microg (A) and 825 microg (B), respectively (P<0.001). Nevertheless, treatment goals (normal lung function, normal exercise tolerance, minimal use of reliever medication, no asthma exacerbations) were all statistically significantly more frequently achieved in group A. At 5 years group B patients also used significantly more additional asthma medications, e.g. inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists by 64% compared with 6% in group A. In group A 43 patients (17%) had been able to stop budesonide treatment compared to five patients (3%) in group B. A subgroup of group B patients with higher mean baseline FEV1 values than group A showed nevertheless significantly poorer response. No treatment-related serious adverse events were reported. Budesonide was well tolerated in both groups.
Conclusion: Duration of asthma symptoms when starting treatment with an inhaled corticosteroid is an important determinant for the response. Early treatment gives significantly better airway function and asthma control than delayed treatment and at lower maintenance doses.