Inhaled corticosteroids versus sodium cromoglycate in children and adults with asthma

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and sodium cromoglycate (SCG) have been advocated as medications to control persistent asthma symptoms among children and adults, yet information on which class of drugs is superior has been conflicting. This study pooled randomized controlled trials that directly compared the effects of ICS to SCG on measures of lung function, asthma control, and health care use. Results suggest that ICS were superior to SCG on measures of lung function and morbidity. The results were consistent among children and adults. There were no differences in adverse effects between ICS and SCG, although inconsistent reporting and insufficient long-term monitoring prevents firm conclusions on safety from being drawn.

Authors' conclusions: 

ICS were superior to SCG on measures of lung function and asthma control for both adults and children with chronic asthma. There were few studies reporting on quality of life and health care utilization, which limited our ability to adequately evaluate the relative effects of these medications on a broader range of outcomes. Although there were no differences in adverse effects between ICS and SCG, most trials were short and may not have been of sufficient duration to identify long-term effects. Our results support recent consensus statements in the U.S. and elsewhere that favour the use of ICS over SCG for control of persistent asthma.

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Background: 

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and sodium cromoglycate (SCG) have become established as effective controller medications for children and adults with asthma, but their relative efficacy is not clear.

Objectives: 

To compare the relative effectiveness and adverse effects of ICS and SCG among children and adults with chronic asthma.

Search strategy: 

Systematic search of the Cochrane Airways Group's special register of controlled trials (to Feb. 2004), hand searches of the reference lists of included trials and relevant review papers, and written requests for identification of additional trials from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled trials comparing the effect of ICS with SCG in children and adults with chronic asthma.

Data collection and analysis: 

All studies were assessed independently for eligibility by three review authors. Disagreements were settled by consensus. Trial authors were contacted to supply missing data or to verify methods. Eligible studies were abstracted and fixed- and random-effects models were implemented to pool studies. Separate analyses were conducted for paediatric and adult studies. Subgroup analyses and meta-regression models were fit to explore heterogeneity of lung function outcomes by type of RCT, category of ICS or SCG dosage, asthma severity of participants, and study quality on outcomes.

Main results: 

Of 67 identified studies, 17 trials involving 1279 children and eight trials involving 321 adults with asthma were eligible. Thirteen (76%) of the paediatric studies and six (75%) of the adult studies were judged to be high quality. Among children, ICS were associated with a higher final mean forced expiratory volume in 1 second [FEV1] (weighted mean difference [WMD] 0.07 litres, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.02 to 0.11) and higher mean final peak expiratory flow rate [PEF] (WMD 17.3 litres/minute, 95% CI 11.3 to 23.3) than SCG. In addition, ICS were associated with fewer exacerbations (WMD -1.18 exacerbations per year, 95% CI -2.15 to - 0.21), lower asthma symptom scores, and less rescue bronchodilator use than SCG. There were no group differences in the proportion of children with adverse effects. Among adults, ICS were similarly associated with a higher mean final FEV1 (WMD 0.21 litres, 95% CI 0.13 to 0.28) and a higher final endpoint PEF (WMD 28.2 litres/minute, 95% CI 18.7 to 37.6) than SCG. ICS were also associated with fewer exacerbations (WMD -3.30 exacerbations per year, 95% CI -5.62 to -0.98), lower asthma symptom scores among cross-over trials but not parallel trials, and less rescue bronchodilator use than SCG. There were no differences in the proportion of adults with adverse effects. In subgroup analyses involving lung function measures, paediatric and adult studies judged to be of high quality had results consistent with the overall results. Lung function measures in children were higher in studies with medium BDP-equivalent steroid dosages than low BDP-equivalent dosages, while adult studies could not be compared by steroid dosage since they all incorporated similar dosages. There were no significant differences in lung function by the asthma severity of participants for adult or child studies.

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