Study objectives: Inhaled, short-acting β-agonists and systemic corticosteroids form the mainstay of therapy in acute asthma exacerbation. Asthma, however, is an inflammatory disease of the airways, and its underlying pathology is not impacted by short-acting β-agonists. While the efficacy of ad-lib β-agonist administration in outpatient management of asthma symptoms is well established, little data exist to support this strategy in patients with acute, severe asthma. We postulate that as long as patients hospitalized with severe asthma exacerbation receive systemic corticosteroids, regular, scheduled administration of short-acting β-agonists is unnecessary. Similar therapeutic outcomes can be achieved with the ad-lib administration of the short-acting β-agonists.
Design: Prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Setting: Pulmonary floor of a 600-bed municipal hospital.
Patients or participants: Sixty-two patients hospitalized for acute asthma.
Interventions: Patients were randomized to receive either albuterol nebulizations (regular albuterol group) or saline solution nebulizations (ad-lib group) every 4 h with management of breakthrough symptoms with albuterol metered-dose inhaler or nebulizations for both groups. All patients received systemic corticosteroids. Peak expiratory flows, asthma symptoms, and need for rescue bronchodilator were followed up on each patient until discharge.
Results: There was no significant difference in the length of hospitalization (median length, 48 h for ad-lib group vs 57.5 h for regular albuterol group, p = 0.82), rate of improvement in peak flow, or symptoms between the two groups. Ad-lib β-agonist use compared to regular albuterol scheduled use resulted in a significant reduction in the total number of albuterol treatments administered (median, 7 treatments vs 19 treatments, p = 0.001) during hospitalization.
Conclusions: In the management of asthma exacerbation, ad-lib administration of albuterol is therapeutically as effective as regular, scheduled administration. This method of drug administration also reduces the total dose of β-agonists received by the hospitalized patient.