Sixty-five trials met the inclusion criteria for this review . Fifty-six trials (19 paediatric trials) contributed data (representing total of 10,005 adults and 3,333 children); 21 trials were of high methodological quality; 44 were published in full-text. All trials pertained to patients with mild or moderate persistent asthma. Trial durations varied from four to 52 weeks. The median dose of inhaled corticosteroids was quite homogeneous at 200 µg/day of microfine hydrofluoroalkane-propelled beclomethasone or equivalent (HFA-BDP eq). Patients treated with anti-leukotrienes were more likely to suffer an exacerbation requiring systemic corticosteroids (N = 6077 participants; risk ratio ( RR ) , 95% confidence interval ( CI ) , ). For every 28 (95% CI 15 to 82) patients treated with anti-leukotrienes instead of inhaled corticosteroids, there was one additional patient with an exacerbation requiring rescue systemic corticosteroids. The magnitude of effect was significantly greater in patients with moderate compared with those with mild airway obstruction ( RR , 95% CI , versus RR , 95% CI , ), but was not significantly influenced by age group (children representing 23% of the weight versus adults), anti-leukotriene used, duration of intervention , methodological quality, and funding source. Significant group differences favouring inhaled corticosteroids were noted in most secondary outcomes including patients with at least one exacerbation requiring hospital admission (N = 2715 participants; RR ; 95% CI to ), the change from baseline FEV 1 (N = 7128 participants; mean group difference ( MD ) 110 mL, 95% CI 140 to 80) as well as other lung function parameters, asthma symptoms, nocturnal awakenings, rescue medication use, symptom-free days, the quality of life, parents' and physicians ' satisfaction. Anti-leukotriene therapy was associated with increased risk of withdrawals due to poor asthma control (N = 7669 participants; RR ; 95% CI to ). For every thirty one (95% CI 22 to 47) patients treated with anti-leukotrienes instead of inhaled corticosteroids, there was one additional withdrawal due to poor control . Risk of side effects was not significantly different between both groups.
There is some evidence that sun exposure can accelerate steroid-induced skin atrophy, the development of which can be limited by protecting the skin, particularly the face and arms, from the sun. Daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen (UVB and UVA block) and appropriate protective clothing is recommended. 10 , 12 - 14 Patients on corticosteroids should also be encouraged to regularly use moisturisers on their arms and legs, as these may reduce bruising and tearing of the skin from minor trauma. 11 Evidence suggests that topical tretinoin can increase the epidermal thickness of sun-damaged atrophic skin, but long-term use may be necessary. 14 In dermatological practice, topical retinoids are used to help reverse skin atrophy caused by sun exposure or corticosteroid use.
The aim of this article is to bring less well recognised adverse effects of inhaled corticosteroids to the attention of prescribers. Whilst inhaled steroids have a more favourable side effect profile than systemic steroids, they are not free from adverse effects. The dose of inhaled steroids used should be carefully monitored, and kept at the lowest dose necessary to maintain adequate control of the patient’s disease process. Be particularly aware of the cumulative effect of co-prescribing various dose forms of corticosteroids (inhaled, intranasal, oral and topical preparations).