Background: Inhaled beta-agonists are the most commonly used treatment for asthma, but data suggest that regularly scheduled use of these agents may have deleterious effect on the control of asthma. We compared the effects of regularly scheduled use of inhaled albuterol with those of albuterol used only as needed in patients with mild chronic, stable asthma.
Methods: In a multicenter, double-blind study, we randomly assigned 255 patients with mild asthma to inhale albuterol either on a regular schedule (126 patients) or only as needed (129 patients). The patients were followed for 16 weeks.
Results: The primary outcome indicator, peak expiratory air flow measured in the morning, did not change significantly during the treatment period in the scheduled (416 liters per minute after the run-in period and 414 liters per minute after the treatment period) or the as-needed (424 liters per minute at both times) treatment groups (P=0.71). There were no significant differences between the two groups in peak flow variability, forced expiratory volume in one second, the number of puffs of supplemental albuterol needed, asthma symptoms, asthma quality-of-life score, or airway responsiveness to methacholine. The statistically significant differences between the groups in evening peak flow and in the short-term bronchodilator response to inhaled albuterol were small and judged to be clinically unimportant.
Conclusions: In patients with mild asthma, neither deleterious nor beneficial effects derived from the regular use of inhaled albuterol beyond those derived from use of the drug as needed. Inhaled albuterol should be prescribed for patients with mild asthma on an as-needed basis.