Published in IJCP December 2018
American Family Physician
Medications for Chronic Asthma
December 11, 2018 | Nathan P. Falk, Scott W. Hughes, Blake C. Rodgers

Chronic asthma is a major health concern for children and adults worldwide. The goal of treatment is to prevent symptoms by reducing airway inflammation and hyperreactivity. Step-up therapy for symptom control involves initiation with low-dose treatment and increasing intensity at subsequent visits if control is not achieved. Step-down therapy starts with a high-dose regimen, reducing intensity as control is achieved. Multiple randomized controlled trials have shown that inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective monotherapy. Other agents may be added to inhaled corticosteroids if optimal symptom control is not initially attained. Long-acting beta2 agonists are the most effective addition, but they are not recommended as monotherapy because of questions regarding their safety. Leukotriene receptor antagonists can be used in addition to inhaled corticosteroids, but they are not as effective as adding a long-acting beta2 agonist. Patients with mild persistent asthma who prefer not to use inhaled corticosteroids may use leukotriene receptor antagonists as monotherapy, but they are less effective. Because of their high cost and a risk of anaphylaxis, monoclonal antibodies should be reserved for patients with severe symptoms not controlled by other agents. Immunotherapy should be considered in persons with asthma triggered by confirmed allergies if they are experiencing adverse effects with medication or have other comorbid allergic conditions. Many patients with asthma use complementary and alternative agents, most of which lack data regarding their safety or effectiveness.