Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)

Leading Patient Education Group Provides Straight Answers to FDA’s Announcement about Asthma Medications

Fairfax, VA, Feb. 23, 2010—Today Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) offered guidance to help patients understand recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings about Advair ® (fluticasone and salmeterol), Foradil ® (formoterol), Serevent ® (salmeterol) and Symbicort ® (budesonide and formoterol), daily inhaled medications containing a long-acting beta agonist (LABA, a 12-hour bronchodilator). The FDA had two basic messages on Feb. 18:

  1. Asthma patients should not use inhaled 12-hour bronchodilators containing long-acting beta agonist alone; they should be used with an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) to treat underlying inflammation.
  2. Patients should only use these medications under frequent medical supervision for symptoms that cannot be controlled with an ICS alone.

A quick chemistry lesson. Bronchodilators relax the smooth muscles of the airways. They treat the noisy part of asthma: coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Foradil (formoterol) labeling says “significant bronchodilation” begins within 15 minutes whereas Serevent (salmeterol) starts quieting symptoms after about 30 minutes. All four reach their peak effectiveness at about 3 hours and provide up to 12 hours of symptom relief.

However, under no circumstances should any of these medications be used more frequently than every 12 hours. If symptoms develop, patients should use a quick-relief bronchodilator such as ProAir ®, Proventil ®, Ventolin ® or Xopenex ®, and notify their medical care provider.

Advair and Symbicort contain two medications: a long-acting beta agonist and an inhaled corticosteroid, a medication that treats the underlying part of asthma called airway inflammation. Serevent and Foradil contain only the long-acting beta agonist.

Daily use of any quick-relief or long-acting bronchodilator without medical supervision and monitoring can cause the patient to miss critical signs of progressively worsening airway inflammation. And therein lies the risk. FDA is concerned that by the time the patient realizes that the situation is serious, it could be too late.

Guidance from AANMA. “The key for asthma care is gaining and maintaining control of the asthma,” said Stuart Stoloff, MD, a member of the NIH Expert Panel 3 that updated the NIH Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma in 2007 and Chairman of AANMA’s Board of Directors. “This requires open and ongoing communication between patients and healthcare providers, including regularly scheduled well visits to monitor levels of control and follow-up visits when medications are changed.”

He added, “Patients who need to use their quick-relief inhaler more than twice a week on a regular basis unrelated to preventing exercise-induced bronchospasm need to speak with their healthcare provider, since their asthma is not well controlled.”

“No one with asthma should need to use a long- or short-acting bronchodilator every day for the rest of their lives if they have addressed the underlying cause of symptoms,” said Nancy Sander, founder and president of AANMA. “Getting and keeping asthma under control requires a strategic plan and a clear understanding of the role of allergies, reflux disease, sinusitis or other contributing factors.”

Carol Jones, RN, AE-C, answers patient phone calls and e-mails for AANMA’s Patient Support Center. “I find that many patients using Advair, Foradil, Serevent, or Symbicort have never been evaluated for allergies or other causes of symptoms. Their medication dosages are often not reduced even though they’ve been without symptoms while using the inhalers,” she said. “This is often when I get a call from a parent stating they hate for their child to be on so much medication when they haven’t had any symptoms for quite some time. I suggest they contact their clinician and discuss weaning down to the lowest dose of inhaled corticosteroids while carefully avoiding known allergens and irritants and see how they do.”

Asthma is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that claims the lives of more than 10 people each day. Medications are only one part of the course of treatment. Proper diagnosis, testing, a written asthma action plan, identification and avoidance of relevant allergens, eating healthy foods, daily exercise and consultation with an allergist or other relevant specialists is the fastest way to resolve respiratory symptoms for the long-term future.


The FDA announcement:

Read AANMA’s article about 12-hour bronchodilators:

Find an Allergist. Find Relief.

Founded in 1985, Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics is the leading national nonprofit family organization dedicated to eliminating suffering and death due to asthma, allergies and related conditions. AANMA’s core areas of expertise are education, advocacy and outreach. The organization’s website and award-winning publications, Allergy & Asthma Today magazine and The MA Report newsletter, are consumer lifelines to medical news and healthy living.

For more information, call 800.878.4403 or visit You can also follow AANMA on Twitter and Facebook and on the Take A Weekly Breather blog.

Contact: Marcela Gieminiani  
703-641-9595, ext. 109