For people with asthma, taking medication from an inhaler can mean a difficult act of coordination. Now, a simple pill may be able to replace some of those inhaler puffs. New research from the University of East Anglia in England reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) pills can be as effective as some inhalers.
Inhalers deliver measured puffs of medication which are inhaled through the mouth. Patients using an inhaler must hold the inhaler in the correct position, breathe out, then take a deep breath in at the same moment they puff the inhaler. Poor technique using an inhaler can mean part of the dose of medicine does not reach the lungs and is wasted. This can be expensive and dangerous if the wrong dose of medication is delivered. Inhaler users may also be concerned about side effects from the use of inhaled steroids, which can include a fungal infection in the mouth or throat known as thrush.
A key to controlling asthma symptoms is consistent use of preventive medications. Historically, inhalers have been prescribed more often because some researchers believed they were more effective than pills such as LTRAs. Treatment may include multiple inhalers including steroids and other preventer medications.
The British research team studied 650 asthma patients for two years. During that time, they observed that LTRAs such as Singulair (montelukast) and Accolate (zafirlukast) were as effective as inhalers at controlling asthma symptoms when used in conjunction with steroid inhalers. They also noted that the pills were easier for patients to take as prescribed.
This study indicates that LTRAs could be an appropriate alternative to multiple inhalers for controlling asthma symptoms. Lead author of the study Professor David Price said, "We found that adherence to treatment was vastly improved –by as much as 60 percent –when patients were given the once-a-day LTRA tablets and patients did not have to worry about using appropriate inhaler technique."
Approximately 300 million people around the world have asthma and number continues to rise.