The management of mild asthma

Eur Respir J. 2021 Apr 8;57(4):2003051. doi: 10.1183/13993003.03051-2020. Print 2021 Apr.


Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) have been recommended as a maintenance treatment, either alone or together with long-acting inhaled β2-agonists, for all asthma patients. Short-acting β2-agonists (SABAs) are rapid-onset bronchodilators, which provide symptom relief, but have no anti-inflammatory properties, yet are the most widely used as-needed reliever treatment for asthma and often the only treatment prescribed. Asthma patients can find adhering to daily preventative medication with ICS difficult and will often revert to using as-needed SABA as their only treatment, increasing their risk of exacerbations. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the efficacy of reliever medications that contain ICS compared with SABA as reliever, or with maintenance ICS and SABA as reliever, in mild asthma patients.Nine studies were identified that have evaluated the use of ICS as a component of an as-needed reliever in patients with mild asthma. Four of the most recent studies compared the combination of ICS/formoterol to SABA as reliever.ICS-containing reliever medication was superior to SABA as reliever alone, and was equivalent to maintenance ICS and SABA as reliever, particularly in reducing risks of severe asthma exacerbations, in studies which compared these reliever options.SABAs should not be used as a reliever without ICS. The concern about patients with mild asthma not being adherent to maintenance ICS supports a recommendation that ICS/formoterol should be considered as a treatment option instead of maintenance ICS, to avoid the risk of patients reverting to SABA alone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Asthma* / drug therapy
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Budesonide / therapeutic use
  • Ethanolamines
  • Formoterol Fumarate / therapeutic use
  • Humans


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ethanolamines
  • Budesonide
  • Formoterol Fumarate