BACKGROUND: Short term treatment with corticosteroids does not usually reduce airflow limitation and airway responsiveness in patients with chronic obstructive lung disease. We investigated whether corticosteroids modulate the effects of inhaled salbutamol and ipratropium bromide. METHODS: Ten non-allergic subjects with stable disease were investigated; eight completed the randomised, double blind, three period cross over study. Treatment regimens consisted of 1.6 mg inhaled budesonide a day for three weeks, 40 mg oral prednisone a day for eight days, and placebo. After each period cumulative doubling doses of salbutamol, ipratropium, a combination of salbutamol and ipratropium, and placebo were administered on separate days until a plateau in FEV1 was reached. A histamine challenge was then performed. RESULTS: At the end of placebo treatment mean FEV1 was 55.5% predicted after inhaled placebo, 67.9% predicted after salbutamol and 64.0% predicted after ipratropium. Compared with the results after the placebo period the FEV1 with salbutamol increased by 0.7% predicted after treatment with budesonide and by 0.7% predicted after treatment with prednisone; the FEV1 with ipratropium increased by 0.7% predicted after budesonide and by 4.8% predicted after prednisone; none of these changes was significant. After placebo treatment the geometric mean PC20 was 0.55 mg/ml after placebo, 1.71 mg/ml after salbutamol and 0.97 mg/ml after ipratropium. Compared with the placebo period the PC20 with salbutamol was increased by 0.86 doubling concentrations after treatment with budesonide, and by 0.67 doubling concentrations after prednisone; the PC20 with ipratropium increased by 0.03 and 0.34 doubling concentrations after budesonide and after prednisone respectively compared with placebo; none of these changes was significant. CONCLUSIONS: In non-allergic subjects with chronic obstructive lung disease short term treatment with high doses of inhaled or oral corticosteroids does not modify the bronchodilator response to salbutamol or ipratropium or the protection provided by either drug against histamine. Salbutamol produces greater protection from histamine induced bronchoconstriction than ipratropium.
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