This randomized, double-blind trial was designed to determine the benefit of high and cumulative doses of flunisolide added to salbutamol in patients with acute asthma in the emergency room (ER). Ninety-four patients who presented to an ER for treatment of an acute exacerbation of asthma were assigned in a randomized, double-blind fashion to receive salbutamol and placebo (n = 47) or salbutamol combined with flunisolide (n = 47). Both drugs were administered successively through a metered-dose inhaler and spacer at 10-min intervals for 3 h (400 microg of salbutamol and 1 mg of flunisolide every 10 min). In both groups, FEV1 and peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) improved significantly over baseline values (p < 0.01). Results in the flunisolide group were significantly different from those in the placebo group at 90, 120, 150, and 180 min. Data analyzed separately in accord with the duration of the attack before presenting at the ER (< 24 or > or = 24 h) showed that the placebo > or = 24 h group produced a significantly lower FEV1 at 120, 150, and 180 min (p = 0.041) than did the remaining groups. Our data support the theory that high and cumulative doses of inhaled flunisolide administered by metered-dose inhaler with spacer and added to salbutamol are an effective therapy for patients with acute asthma and a prolonged duration of symptoms before ER presentation.