Background: Locally delivered steroids by inhalers or nebulizers have been shown in small trials to be effective in acute asthma attack, but evidence-based data are insufficient to establish their place as routine management of adult asthma attacks.
Objectives: To determine the efficacy of nebulized compared to systemic steroids in adult asthmatics admitted to the emergency department following an acute attack.
Methods: Adult asthmatics admitted to the ED were assigned in random consecutive case fashion to one of three protocol groups: group 1 – nebulized steroid fluticasone (Flixotide Nebules®), group 2 – intravenous methylprednisolone, group 3 – combined treatment by both routes. Objective and subjective parameters, such as peak expiratory flow, oxygen saturation, heart rate, and dyspnea score, were registered before and 2 hours after ED treatment was initiated. Steroids were continued for 1 week following the ED visit according to the protocol arm. Data on hospital admission/discharge rate, ED readmissions in the week after enrollment and other major events related to asthma were registered.
Results: Altogether, 73 adult asthmatics were assigned to receive treatment: 24 patients in group 1, 23 in group 2 and 26 in group 3. Mean age was 44.4 ± 16.8 years (range 17–75 years). Peak expiratory flow and dyspnea score significantly improved in group 1 patients compared with patients in the other groups after 2 hours of ED treatment (P = 0.021 and 0.009, respectively). The discharge rate after ED treatment was significantly higher in groups 1 and 3 than in group 2 (P = 0.05). All 73 patients were alive a week after enrollment. Five patients (20.8%) in the Flixotide treatment arm were hospitalized and required additional systemic steroids. Multivariate analysis of factors affecting hospitalization rate demonstrated that severity of asthma (odds ratio 8.11) and group 2 (OD 4.17) had a negative effect, whereas adherence to chronic anti-asthma therapy (OD 0.49) reduced the hospitalization rate.
Conclusions: Our study cohort showed the advantage of nebulized steroid fluticasone versus systemic corticosteroids in adult asthmatics managed in the ED following an acute attack. Both these and previous results suggest that nebulized steroids should be used, either alone or in combination with systemic steroids, to treat adults with an acute asthma attack.