Sputum cell counts to manage prednisone-dependent asthma: effects on FEV1 and eosinophilic exacerbations
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BACKGROUND: Prednisone dependence in asthma is usually described based on clinical and spirometric characteristics. It is generally believed that these patients have frequent exacerbations and lose lung function rapidly because of uncontrolled airway eosinophilia. OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study are to report the effect on asthma exacerbations and the change in lung function over time in prednisone-dependent asthma when severe asthma is managed using a protocol that aims to maintain normal sputum cell counts. METHODS: A retrospective survey of patients prospectively assessed in a university tertiary care asthma clinic. RESULTS: 52 patients (30 males, mean age 51 years, 64% non-atopic) were followed for a median period of 5.4 years (min-max: 0.2-35.2). Monitoring with the aim of keeping sputum eosinophils below 3% resulted in higher doses of corticosteroids (median daily dose of prednisone was 10 mg and for inhaled corticosteroids was 1500 μg of fluticasone equivalent) than at baseline and this was associated with predictable adverse effects. Despite the disease severity, 10 patients (19%) did not require LABA for symptom control. Most importantly, over the period of follow-up, there were only 0.3 eosinophilic exacerbations/patient/year. Overall, there was an increase in FEV1 over the period of follow-up (mean +84.6 ml/year) rather than an expected decline. CONCLUSIONS: Monitoring of eosinophils in sputum enables to maintain symptom control and preserve FEV1 in patients with severe prednisone-dependent asthma.
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