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Researchers found mild asthma was relieved just as well with tablet drugs known as leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs), as with steroid inhalers.
The drugs also boosted the condition of patients showing moderate symptoms when used with steroid inhalers, although patients just taking the non-steroidal pills were up to 60% more likely to comply with treatment.
LTRAs, sold under the brand names Singulair and Accolate, have long been available as alternative treatments to ward off asthma attacks, but some consider them less effective than inhalers and far less frequently prescribed. Under UK guidelines, LTRAs are recommended as third or fourth steps in asthma management.
The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 650 patients with chronic asthma who were either treated with inhalers or LTRAs for two years. The pills were effective replacements for steroid inhalers when treating mild, but not moderate, asthma.
Researchers said the tablets could be useful for the more than 80% of patients who suffer side effects from inhalers or have a problem using them, or do not want to take steroids. Lead author Professor David Price, from the University of Aberdeen and the University of East Anglia, said: “We hope these findings will increase the options for healthcare professionals.”
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