BACKGROUND: It is unknown whether inhaled corticosteroids can modify the subsequent development of asthma in preschool children at high risk for asthma. METHODS: We randomly assigned 285 participants two or three years of age with a positive asthma predictive index to treatment with fluticasone propionate (at a dose of 88 ìg twice daily) or masked placebo for two years, followed by a one-year period without study medication. The primary outcome was the proportion of episode-free days during the observation year. RESULTS: During the observation year, no significant differences were seen between the two groups in the proportion of episode-free days, the number of exacerbations, or lung function. During the treatment period, as compared with placebo use, use of the inhaled corticosteroid was associated with a greater proportion of episode-free days (P=0.006) and a lower rate of exacerbations (P<0.001) and of supplementary use of controller medication (P<0.001). In the inhaled-corticosteroid group, as compared with the placebo group, the mean increase in height was 1.1 cm less at 24 months (P<0.001), but by the end of the trial, the height increase was 0.7 cm less (P=0.008). During treatment, the inhaled corticosteroid reduced symptoms and exacerbations but slowed growth, albeit temporarily and not progressively. CONCLUSIONS: In preschool children at high risk for asthma, two years of inhaled-corticosteroid therapy did not change the development of asthma symptoms or lung function during a third, treatment-free year. These findings do not provide support for a subsequent disease-modifying effect of inhaled corticosteroids after the treatment is discontinued.
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