Two drugs are better than one when it comes to stopping asthma attacks in progress, a new clinical trial has found.
The study, of more than 3,100 asthma patients, found that a two-drug “rescue” inhaler worked better than a standard inhaler in thwarting severe asthma exacerbations — helping some patients avoid trips to the hospital.
How the inhaler works
The inhaler, which is not yet approved, contains two long-used asthma medications: albuterol and budesonide.
Budesonide is a corticosteroid that controls the airway inflammation underlying asthma. People with the disease commonly use a daily inhaler containing a corticosteroid (one brand is Pulmicort) to prevent attacks of wheezing, coughing and breathlessness.
That’s in contrast to standard rescue inhalers, which are used to quickly quell a symptom flare-up. They contain medications called short-acting beta-agonists and work by relaxing and widening the airways. Short-acting beta-agonists include albuterol (branded as ProAir).
In the new trial, researchers found that combining budesonide and albuterol into one rescue inhaler appears to be the better approach. On average, the two-drug inhaler cut patients’ risk of a severe symptom attack by 26%, versus albuterol alone.
Experts believe the new inhaler, if approved, should become the rescue medication of choice for most asthma patients.
Why the new inhaler works better
“Current rescue therapy certainly works, but it’s not the best,” says Dr. Reynold Panettieri Jr., one of the researchers on the trial.
That’s because while standard inhalers open the airways, they do not address inflammation, explains Panettieri, a professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.
The dual-drug inhaler gives people a dose of corticosteroids “right when they need it most,” Panettieri shares.
That does not mean the new rescue inhaler could replace