Are You Overusing Your Asthma Medication?

If you have mild asthma and take a control inhaler that contains a combination of corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists (LABAs), you could be overmedicating, according to the experts.

The latest research reveals that adding LABAs to corticosteroids for patients with mild asthma doesn't bring any extra health benefits and could increase the risk for life-threatening effects.

The Risk of Overuse

LABAs combined with corticosteroids have often been used to help patients with moderate or severe asthma manage their condition. They help relax the muscles in the lungs and in the airways, which can reduce asthma symptoms such as wheezing and breathing difficulty.

Many doctors also prescribe this treatment for people with mild asthma. But now scientists have become aware that in some patients, LABAs can also increase airway sensitivity, which can make patients more susceptible to having a serious or even fatal attack. That's why in February 2010, the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) put out a safety warning for doctors to reevaluate their use of this medication.

The Latest Research

To better understand the pros and cons of using LABAs in conjunction with corticosteroids to treat mild asthma, researchers affiliated with the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI) recently compared the health records of patients using a combination of corticosteroids and LABAs with those using only corticosteroids. They discovered that adding the LABAs increased the medication costs, but didn't seem to decrease the need for medical services related to asthma. These findings were presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's annual meeting in November 2010.

What this Means for You

If you're currently taking LABAs, it's important not to stop the medication without your doctor's approval because in some patients, LABAs can be an essential short-term treatment strategy. You should, however, take this opportunity to work with your physician to revisit your asthma medication plan and make sure you have the most appropriate options in place. If he feels that you do need the combination inhaler, you can ask how long you'll need to take it. Also, be sure to use your peak flow monitor to keep track of any changes in your condition and be prepared to seek emergency medical treatment if you suddenly notice symptoms worsening.

Rely on Your Asthma Action Plan

With or without using LABAs, it's essential to have an updated asthma action plan in place that includes steps to monitor your condition, avoid triggers and use medication as needed. You should also examine your environment to determine any changes can to help improve your symptoms.


"Mild Asthma Patients Over-medicated." American College of Asthma, Allergies and Immunology. ACAAI, 13 Nov. 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.

"Medications for Treating Asthma." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, 10 April 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.

"Asthma Medications." University of Michigan Health System. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.

"FDA Drug Safety Communication: New Safety Requirements for Long-Acting Inhaled Asthma Medications Called Long-Acting Beta-Agonists (LABAs)." US Food and Drug Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.