Despite the proven efficacy of inhaled corticosteroids in reducing airway inflammation and their increasing use for the treatment of asthma since the mid 1980s, hospitalization for asthma has been increasing in frequency in several countries. Only few studies, reporting contradictory results, have investigated the role of inhaled corticosteroids in the prevention of hospitalizations for asthma. Using a cohort of 2,059 hospitalized asthmatic patients between 5 and 54 yr of age, we estimated the effectiveness of inhaled corticosteroids in preventing a readmission to hospital for asthma as a function of the duration of therapy. The cohort was selected from the databases of Saskatchewan Health from 1977 to 1993. The rate ratio (RR) of a readmission for asthma varied with duration of regular therapy with inhaled corticosteroids. During the first 15 d of regular therapy, users of inhaled corticosteroids were as likely as nonusers of these medications to be readmitted for asthma with a RR of 1.2 (95% CI: 0.8-1.8). Subjects treated regularly with inhaled corticosteroids for at least 16 d and as long as 6 mo were 40% less likely to be readmitted for asthma (RR = 0.6; 95% CI: 0.4-0.9), while after 6 mo of regular treatment the protective effect disappeared (RR = 1.3; 95% CI: 0.7-2.4). We conclude that regular therapy with inhaled corticosteroids can substantially reduce the risk of a readmission for asthma after only 15 d of use. Confounding by severity appears as the most likely explanation for the disappearance of the beneficial effect after 6 mo of regular therapy.