How safe is your asthma medication? If you use an inhaler containing long-acting beta agonists (also known as an LABAs) to treat your asthma symptoms, you could actually be putting yourself in danger. This warning came from the US Food and Drug Administration in February of 2010, along with recommendations for asthmatics to take new precautions when using this form of medication. If this applies to you, please read on for some important information.

Concerns Prompt FDA Guidelines for LABAs

First, clinical trials have shown that some adults and children who take bronchodilators consisting of long-acting beta agonists alone to treat their condition may find that this medication actually worsens their asthma symptoms, instead of making them better. In some cases, this can be serious enough to lead to hospitalization and even death. This fact is what prompted the FDA to take action to put some safeguards in place.

The Risk that Exists

To understand the risk these inhalers involve, you need to know that bronchodilators treat asthma is by relaxing the airway muscles to prevent them from going into a spasm. This relief is supposed to last for about 12 hours. However, in some cases, when the airway constriction that occurs in an asthma attack is removed, but the correlating inflammation still exists, the patient may miss the warning signs of an asthma attack that's brewing. By the time the asthmatic realizes he's having a serious problem, in some cases it may be too late to respond in time.

The Basics on the FDA Guidelines

In light of these findings, the FDA is now requiring manufacturers of LABAs to include the risks and appropriate warnings right on its packaging. Further, the FDA guidelines also state that only those patients who're unable to manage their asthma with other approaches should use long-acting beta agonists, and they should only use this medication in conjunction with an inhaled corticosteroid or other asthma controller drug that can manage the inflammation.

In addition, the FDA stresses that long-acting beta agonists should be used for the shortest amount of time possible in order to achieve control of their asthma symptoms, and only under close medical supervision. Once asthma control is reached, the patient should switch to other asthma medications that are safer.

FDA Guidelines for Young People

For children and adolescents in need of long-acting beta agonists, the FDA guidelines say that it's essential for them to only use this in the form of medication that combines both a long-acting beta agonist and an inhaled corticosteroid into one treatment, in order to ensure that they will always be taken together to ensure the safest outcome. 

The Implications for You

If you currently take long-acting inhaled beta agonists, then you should talk with your doctor right away about the best way to use this medication for your specific situation, or better yet, to find out about other alternatives that might be safer. In addition, it's important to stay on top of your symptoms and to notice if you need your fast-acting relief medication more than usual, which can be a sign that your condition isn't well managed. It's also crucial that you don't just stop taking you medication cold turkey without other treatment approaches from your doctor in place. With proper medical guidance, you can keep your symptoms under control and prevent any serious effects.

You should also know that while the FDA says that long-acting beta agonists alone aren't safe for asthma, they're still considered safe for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Therefore, if you suffer from COPD, check with your doctor to confirm that it's okay to continue with your current medication plan unaltered.


Allergy and Asthma Network: Mothers of Asthmatics

US Food and Drug Administration