This week an FDA advisory panel reviewed the evidence on asthma medication and released recommendations about a class of inhaled medications that may be unsafe.  Their conclusions drew much media attention.

The panel’s concern is the increasingly worrisome evidence about long-acting beta agonists (LABAs).  LABAs are a family of inhaled medications including Serevent and Foradil which are frequently used to treat asthma.  Studies have shown increased numbers of asthma exacerbations in patients taking LABAs, and one study showed an increased risk of death.  Since most patients take most medicines to avoid death, this is an inconvenient side effect.

Fortunately inhaled steroids, which are another class of medications for asthma, appear to eliminate the adverse side effects of LABAs.  Advair and Symbicort are inhalers which combine a LABA with an inhaled steroid.  The FDA advisory panel judged these combination medications safe, but said that the risks of Serevent and Foradil may outweigh the benefits.

Obviously, don’t stop your asthma inhalers without talking to your doctor, but if you’re using Serevent or Foradil without also using a daily inhaled steroid, a visit with your doctor is in order.

Learn more:

Reuters article: US FDA panel: Two asthma drugs risky but Advair OK

WebMD article: FDA Panel Asks: Are Asthma Drugs Safe?