People with asthma may experience exacerbations or "attacks" during which their symptoms worsen and additional treatment is required. Written action plans may advocate doubling the dose of inhaled steroids in the early stages of an asthma exacerbation to reduce the severity of the attack and to prevent the need for oral steroids or hospital admission.
To compare the clinical effectiveness and safety of increased versus stable doses of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) as part of a patient-initiated action plan for home management of exacerbations in children and adults with persistent asthma.
We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register, which is derived from searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) to March 2016. We handsearched respiratory journals and meeting abstracts.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared increased versus stable doses of ICS for home management of asthma exacerbations. We included studies of children or adults with persistent asthma who were receiving daily maintenance ICS.
Two review authors independently selected trials, assessed quality and extracted data. We contacted authors of RCTs for additional information.
This review update added three new studies including 419 participants to the review. In total, we identified eight RCTs, most of which were at low risk of bias, involving 1669 participants with mild to moderate asthma. We included three paediatric (n = 422) and five adult (n = 1247) studies; six were parallel-group trials and two had a cross-over design. All but one study followed participants for six months to one year. Allowed maintenance doses of ICS varied in adult and paediatric studies, as did use of concomitant medications and doses of ICS initiated during exacerbations. Investigators gave participants a study inhaler containing additional ICS or placebo to be started as part of an action plan for treatment of exacerbations.The odds of treatment failure, defined as the need for oral corticosteroids, were not significantly reduced among those randomised to increased ICS compared with those taking their usual stable maintenance dose (odds ratio (OR) 0.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.68 to 1.18; participants = 1520; studies = 7). When we analysed only people who actually took their study inhaler for an exacerbation, we found much variation between study results but the evidence did not show a significant benefit of increasing ICS dose (OR 0.84, 95% CI 0.54 to 1.30; participants = 766; studies = 7). The odds of having an unscheduled physician visit (OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.41; participants = 931; studies = 3) or acute visit (Peto OR 0.98, 95% CI 0.24 to 3.98; participants = 450; studies = 3) were not significantly reduced by an increased versus stable dose of ICS, and evidence was insufficient to permit assessment of impact on the duration of exacerbation; our ability to draw conclusions from these outcomes was limited by the number of studies reporting these events and by the number of events included in the analyses. The odds of serious events (OR 1.69, 95% CI 0.77 to 3.71; participants = 394; studies = 2) and non-serious events, such as oral irritation, headaches and changes in appetite (OR 2.15, 95% CI 0.68 to 6.73; participants = 142; studies = 2), were neither increased nor decreased significantly by increased versus stable doses of ICS during an exacerbation. Too few studies are available to allow firm conclusions on the basis of subgroup analyses conducted to investigate the impact of age, time to treatment initiation, doses used, smoking history and the fold increase of ICS on the magnitude of effect; yet, effect size appears similar in children and adults.
Current evidence does not support increasing the dose of ICS as part of a self initiated action plan to treat exacerbations in adults and children with mild to moderate asthma. Increased ICS dose is not associated with a statistically significant reduction in the odds of requiring rescue oral corticosteroids for the exacerbation, or of having adverse events, compared with a stable ICS dose. Wide confidence intervals for several outcomes mean we cannot rule out possible benefits of this approach.