Safety Of LABA Asthma Medications

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses the safety of LABA (Long Acting Beta Agonist) asthma medication.

Question

I have had adverse reactions to two LABA medications. Advair and BREO. Shortness of breath, respiratory distress and worsening asthma. My doctor wants to try more LABA medications. I am very afraid to do this due to the black box warnings. Should I take the risk?

Asked by Louise On Jan 14, 2018

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Jan 16, 2018

There has been considerably controversy regarding the safety of LABA (Long Acting Beta Agonist) medications.  LABAs work by relaxing the muscles in the airways, easing inflammation and making respiration easier. LABA medications include:

  • Serevent (Salmeterol)
  • Foradil (Formoterol)

They work in a similar manner to the more common SABA (Short Acting Beta Agonst) medications like Albuterol (e.g. Proair, Ventolin). However, while SABA medications work quickly and last only a few hours, LABA medications generally last for more than 12 hours.


Safety Of LABA Medications

A 2006 study quickly turned the tide against the use of LABA medications. While we won't get into the specifics of the study, it produced results that showed the use of LABAs alone (as the sole therapy) were associated with an increased risk of asthma-related death and hospitalization from asthma exacerbation. The exact reasoning for this hasn't been determined but it is thought that the use of LABA medication, without the use of a controlling inhaled corticosteroid, masks the symptoms of underlying or worsening inflammation and leaves it untreated. 


Partly due to the results from the above study, the FDA created a black box warning for "asthma related death" for all medications containing a LABA.


Recent data and studies have shown however, that LABA medications can play an important role in treatment of asthma and shouldn't be disregarded. In fact, they are considered safe and beneficial, but only when used in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids. When used with steroids, they are not associated with increased death or hospitalizations and can improve asthma related symptoms.


Due to the new information regarding LABA medications and their role in therapy, the FDA removed the black box warning on medications that combine a LABA and an inhaled corticosteroid.


The use of a LABA medication in your situation will be up to you and your doctor. If you are concerned about a true drug allergy, hopefully your doctor can find a medication that you won't have a reaction to. Do know however, that you shouldn't be as concerned regarding LABA medications in terms of side effects, as long as they are in combination with an inhaled steroid. LABA/steroid combination medications include:

  • Advair (Fluticasone/salmeterol)
  • Symbicort (Budesonide/formoterol)
  • Dulera (Mometasone/formoterol)
  • Breo (Fluticasone furoate/vilanterol)

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of PharmacistAnswers.com. He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor Of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in several publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any questions or want to connect! [email protected]; Office: 716-389-3076

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