Therapeutic strategies to reduce asthma exacerbations

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Aug;128(2):257-63; quiz 264-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.03.035. Epub 2011 Apr 29.


Asthma exacerbations can occur in patients with all degrees of asthma severity. They generally develop over 5 to 7 days and are most often initiated by an upper respiratory tract infection (usually with human rhinovirus) or by environmental allergen exposure in atopic subjects. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) taken on a regular basis are very effective in reducing the risk of asthma exacerbations, and the combination of ICSs and long-acting inhaled β₂-agonists further reduces this risk. In addition, use of the combination of the ICS budesonide and the long-acting inhaled β₂-agonist formoterol, both as maintenance asthma treatment and also as rescue treatment (instead of a short-acting inhaled β₂-agonist), has a significant further beneficial effect on asthma exacerbation risk. Other therapies that have been demonstrated to reduce severe asthma exacerbations are leukotriene receptor antagonists, which have been demonstrated to be effective most consistently in this regard in children, and anti-IgE mAbs, which are effective in subjects with difficult-to-treat allergic asthma. Approximately 50% of severe asthma exacerbations are eosinophilic in nature, whereas many of the remaining are neutrophilic. Several studies have demonstrated that making asthma treatment decisions based on minimizing airway eosinophil numbers (measured in induced sputum) can reduce the risks of severe exacerbations. In addition, treatment of patients with severe asthma with an anti-IL-5 mAb also reduces the number of severe asthma exacerbations, demonstrating a central role of eosinophils in many exacerbations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Leukotriene Antagonists / therapeutic use


  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic
  • Leukotriene Antagonists
  • anti-IgE antibodies