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Asthma Pills Just As Good As Inhalers

May 5, 2011

Asthma sufferers are more often prescribed inhalers than pills to treat their symptoms. However, a British study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) suggests that pills marketed under brand names such as Singulair and Accolate work just as well and are easier for patients to manage, reports AFP.

Led by Professor David Price of the University of Aberdeen and the University of East Anglia, the study followed 650 chronic asthma patients for two years.

Two sub-studies were involved. In one study, researchers compared 158 patients on inhalers containing medicines known as inhaled glucocorticoids with 148 individuals who were taking either Singulair or Accolate.

The other study involved giving either LTRA or one of two types of long-acting inhalers to 352 patients who were already taking inhaled glucocorticoids.

After two months, patients showed similar improvements in both groups in a questionnaire that measured quality of life. At the end of two years, researchers found that drugs called leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) were able to manage “the disease equally successfully.”

In addition, patients taking the pills were more likely to stick to their medication, the study found.

Price hopes that “these findings will increase the options for healthcare professionals when prescribing for this common but disruptive disease.”

“Adherence is really crucial in chronic illness therapy,” he says in an interview with Reuters reporter Kate Kelland. “LTRAs are easy to use and can help patients control their asthma effectively and improve their quality of life.”

Price noted in a statement: “We found that adherence to treatment was vastly improved – by as much as 60 percent – when patients were given the once-a-day LTRA tablets and patients did not have to worry about using appropriate inhaler techniques.”

Asthma affects about 300 million people worldwide, which includes 25 million Americans, and about eight percent of the British adult population.

This chronic condition is characterized with the inflammation of the airways that causes wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, and can significantly harm a person’s quality of life.

Daily inhalers that use steroids to treat symptoms are most likely prescribed to sufferers, in addition to a separate inhaler used in case of severe attacks.

LTRAs have long been on the market as an alternative to steroid inhalers, but are currently only recommended as a third or fourth option to patients.

Sven-Erik Dahlen and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm commented in an NEJM commentary which said that the study sent “an important message.”

They wrote, “We think this alternative approach works in the real world setting primarily because it is easier to take a pill once or twice a day than to use an inhaler.”

Director of research and policy at the charity Asthma UK Dr. Samantha Walker, says, “Inhaled treatments are safe and effective for the majority of people with asthma, however this authoritative study reveals preliminary evidence that non-steroid daily tablets can provide a realistic, alternative choice of treatment for some of the 4.3 million adults with asthma in the UK.”

She adds that, “Asthma is different for each person and treatment options should reflect the diverse and complex needs of the individual. This study shows that for some adults with asthma a non-steroid daily tablet can be as good as inhaled steroid asthma medicines.

“Our advice to people with asthma would be to continue taking their medicines as prescribed and speak to their GP if they feel their asthma needs reviewing.”

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