BACKGROUND: For children who have uncontrolled asthma despite the use of low-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), evidence to guide step-up therapy is lacking. METHODS: We randomly assigned 182 children (6 to 17 years of age), who had uncontrolled asthma while receiving 100 μg of fluticasone twice daily, to receive each of three blinded step-up therapies in random order for 16 weeks: 250 μg of fluticasone twice daily (ICS step-up), 100 μg of fluticasone plus 50 μg of a long-acting beta-agonist twice daily (LABA step-up), or 100 μg of fluticasone twice daily plus 5 or 10 mg of a leukotriene-receptor antagonist daily (LTRA step-up). We used a triple-cross-over design and a composite of three outcomes (exacerbations, asthma-control days, and the forced expiratory volume in 1 second) to determine whether the frequency of a differential response to the step-up regimens was more than 25%. RESULTS: A differential response occurred in 161 of 165 patients who were evaluated (P<0.001). The response to LABA step-up therapy was most likely to be the best response, as compared with responses to LTRA step-up (relative probability, 1.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1 to 2.3; P = 0.004) and ICS step-up (relative probability, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.2 to 2.4; P = 0.002). Higher scores on the Asthma Control Test before randomization (indicating better control at baseline) predicted a better response to LABA step-up (P = 0.009). White race predicted a better response to LABA step-up, whereas black patients were least likely to have a best response to LTRA step-up (P = 0.005). CONCLUSIONS: Nearly all the children had a differential response to each step-up therapy. LABA step-up was significantly more likely to provide the best response than either ICS or LTRA step-up. However, many children had a best response to ICS or LTRA step-up therapy, highlighting the need to regularly monitor and appropriately adjust each child's asthma therapy.
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