Two trials comparing aerosol and oral steroid treatment were carried out in patients with chronic airways obstruction. All patients had a history of chronic productive cough and an FEV1 less than 70% predicted but did not have episodic or seasonal breathlessness with wheezing. One trial involved 18 outpatients, the other 18 inpatients. Both studies involved three consecutive treatment periods, the first with placebo aerosol, the second with active aerosol (betamethasone valerate, 800 microgram/day), and the third with oral prednisone or prednisolone (30 mg/day). Six patients showed a significant improvement in ventilatory capacity on steroids. Initial assessment included a comprehensive history using a questionnaire, skin tests, blood and sputum eosinophil counts, and chest radiography. In addition, for the inpatients, response to isoprenaline, daily sputum volume, and PaCO2 were measured. Only blood eosinophilia and variability in ventilatory capacity during the placebo period seemed indicative of a likely response to steroids. However, there was a large overlap between various features on assessment in the responders and non-responders, and the management of every patient with chronic airways obstruction should include a controlled trial of steroids. The steroid aerosol produced a good improvement in ventilatory capacity in the responsive patients who were hospitalised and this was thought to be helped by supervision of aerosol technique. Such an aerosol could therefore be used for a steroid trial although oral steroids were found to give a more definitive response.
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