In order to overcome the problem of poor co-ordination with the use of the conventional press and breathe metered dose inhaler, a breath-activated inhaler ('Autohaler' inhalation device) has been developed. The clinical response to equal doses of beclomethasone dipropionate administered from the 'Autohaler' device and the conventional metered dose inhaler was compared in 36 stable asthmatic patients receiving regular inhaled beclomethasone dipropionate. The study was performed using a double-blind, double-dummy crossover design. Each treatment was given for 4 weeks. Objective and subjective measures of asthma severity were compared in the second 14 days of each treatment period, with clinical equivalence defined as a difference of 20% or less in the adjusted mean values for the 30 patients with data from both treatment periods. Equivalence at the +/- 5% level was found in the objective measures of pre-bronchodilator FEV1 (p < or = 0.001); post-bronchodilator FEV1 (p < 0.001); morning and evening peak expiratory flow rate (both p < or = 0.001). Patient diary cards established there was equivalent usage of inhaled bronchodilator, and equivalent symptom scores for daytime disability and daytime and night-time breathlessness. The results show that, in stable asthmatics, treatment with beclomethasone dipropionate is clinically equivalent when delivered by the 'Autohaler' device or the conventional metered dose inhaler used efficiently.