Quantifying the proportion of severe asthma exacerbations attributable to inhaled corticosteroid nonadherence

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Dec;128(6):1185-1191.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.09.011. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


Background: Asthma is an inflammatory condition often punctuated by episodic symptomatic worsening, and accordingly, patients with asthma might have waxing and waning adherence to controller therapy.

Objective: We sought to measure changes in inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) adherence over time and to estimate the effect of this changing pattern of use on asthma exacerbations.

Methods: ICS adherence was estimated from electronic prescription and fill information for 298 participants in the Study of Asthma Phenotypes and Pharmacogenomic Interactions by Race-Ethnicity. For each patient, we calculated a moving average of ICS adherence for each day of follow-up. Asthma exacerbations were defined as the need for oral corticosteroids, an asthma-related emergency department visit, or an asthma-related hospitalization. Proportional hazard models were used to assess the relationship between ICS medication adherence and asthma exacerbations.

Results: Adherence to ICS medications began to increase before the first asthma exacerbation and continued afterward. Adherence was associated with a reduction in exacerbations but was only statistically significant among patients whose adherence was greater than 75% of the prescribed dose (hazard ratio, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.41-0.90) when compared with patients whose adherence was 25% or less. This pattern was largely confined to patients whose asthma was not well controlled initially. An estimated 24% of asthma exacerbations were attributable to ICS medication nonadherence.

Conclusions: ICS adherence varies in the time period leading up to and after an asthma exacerbation, and nonadherence likely contributes to a large number of these exacerbations. High levels of adherence are likely required to prevent these events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage*
  • Adult
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents