Long-Acting Beta Agonists – How Safe Are They?

Long-acting beta agonists are commonly used asthma control medications that are used not as rescue medications to use when there is an asthma attack present, but to help asthma sufferers prevent attacks or to lower severity of symptoms. Though commonly used, there are certain apprehensions that people have with regard to safety of these drugs.

LABA medications and how they work

Salmeterol (Serevent), Arformoterol (Brovana), Formoterol (Foradil)and Bambuterol are some of the commonly used and prescribed long acting beta agonists and are most often used for controlling nocturnal asthma or preventing the triggering of exercise-induced asthma. LABAs are described as adjunctive treatment for asthma.

Beta-AgonistsThese medications work by preventing asthma attacks by working over a longer period and are not useful for controlling an actual attack and require taking daily regardless of the appearance of symptoms.

They can help to prevent the tightening of the muscle bands that surround airways and also prevent scarring and inflammation.

Proper use of LABAs help to prevent attacks of exercise-induced asthma, can improve lung function, reduce asthma symptoms and number of attacks, and even lesser reliance on inhalers.

Are LABAs unsafe?

There is the apprehension expressed about the safety of these medications – in some cases they have actually exacerbated asthma symptoms and make them more severe and are even thought to increase risk of dying from asthma.

Studies conducted in respect of LABAs have demonstrated as much and the warning on the product label is itself enough to cause apprehension.

However the above negative reactions occur only when the LABA medications are improperly used. Experts as well as the FDA recommend that LABAs can safely and effectively be used in the following manner –

  • LABAs should never be used alone, but should always be used along with medications such as inhaled corticosteroids or in conjunction with asthma controller medications.
  • They are suitable for longer term use.
  • They are suitable for those asthma patients for whom other asthma control medications are not adequate or effective.
  • LABAs should be used for the shortest possible duration, or as little time as required to adequately control one’s asthma. After the asthma is adequately controlled the LABAs should be discontinued in favor of other asthma control medicines if possible.
  • It is recommended that younger asthmatics such as children and adolescents should use a combination product that contains both the LABA element as well as the inhaled corticosteroidelement to ensure compliance of the above guidelines.

The bottom line with LABAs is that their use should be curtailed and kept as limited as possible in order that the possible complications that they are associated with do not occur.

It is also important to remember to take the medication not as a rescue medication but as a daily dosethat is never to be used alone but in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids or other asthma control medications.

Dosages and manner of using them should be in compliance with guidelines and warnings on the box. When it comes to pediatric use of LABAs, extra caution should be exercised and combination LABAs are best to use.



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