It is well known that physical exercise can trigger asthma symptoms and can induce bronchial obstruction in people without clinical asthma. International guidelines on asthma management recommend the use of beta2-agonists at any stage of the disease. At present, however, no consensus has been reached about the efficacy and safety of beta2-agonists in the pretreatment of exercise-induced asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. For the purpose of the present review, both of these conditions are referred to by the acronymous EIA, independently from the presence of an underlying chronic clinical disease.
To assess the effects of inhaled short- and long-acting beta2-agonists, compared with placebo, in the pretreatment of children and adults with exercise-induced asthma (or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction).
Trials were identified by electronic searching of the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register of Trials and by handsearching of respiratory journals and meetings. Searches are current as of August 2013.
We included randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of any study design, published in full text, that assessed the effects of inhaled beta2-agonists on EIA in adults and children. We excluded studies that did not clearly state diagnostic criteria for EIA.
Data collection and analysis
We used standard methodological procedures as expected by The Cochrane Collaboration.
We included 53 trials consisting of 1139 participants. Forty-eight studies used a cross-over design, and five were performed in accordance with a parallel-group design. Forty-five studies addressed the effect of a single beta2-agonist administration, and eight focused on long-term treatment. We addressed these two different intervention regimens as different comparisons.
Among primary outcomes for short-term administration, data on maximum fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) showed a significant protective effect for both short-acting beta-agonists (SABA) and long-acting beta-agonists (LABA) compared with placebo, with a mean difference of -17.67% (95% confidence interval (CI) -19.51% to -15.84%, P = 0.00001, 799 participants from 72 studies). The subgroup analysis of studies performed in adults compared with those performed in children showed high heterogeneity confined to children, despite the comparable mean bronchoprotective effect.
Secondary outcomes on other pulmonary function parameters confirmed a more positive and protective effect of beta2-agonists on EIA compared with placebo. Occurrence of side effects was not significantly different between beta2-agonists and placebo.
Overall evaluation of the included long-term studies suggests a beta2-agonist bronchoprotective effect for the first dose of treatment. However, long-term use of both SABA and LABA induced the onset of tolerance and decreased the duration of drug effect, even after a short treatment period.
Evidence of low to moderate quality shows that beta2-agonists, both SABA and LABA, when administered in a single dose, are effective and safe in preventing EIA.
Long-term regular administration of inhaled beta2-agonists induces tolerance and lacks sufficient safety data. This finding appears to be of particular clinical relevance in view of the potential for prolonged regular use of beta2-agonists as monotherapy in the pretreatment of EIA, despite the warnings of drug agencies (FDA, EMA) regarding LABA.