BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that inhaled corticosteroids may provide greater protection against constrictor stimuli that act indirectly such as exercise than those that act directly such as histamine. METHODS: The effects of six weeks treatment with inhaled budesonide (800 micrograms twice daily) on bronchial reactivity to histamine, exercise, and eucapnic voluntary hyperventilation of dry air were compared in a double blind, placebo controlled, non-crossover study in 40 subjects with asthma. Change in bronchial reactivity to histamine and eucapnic hyperventilation over the six weeks was measured as change in the provocative dose of histamine or dry air causing a 20% fall in FEV1 (PD20 histamine and PV20 eucapnic hyperventilation (EVH) of dry air); this was not possible for exercise because of the development of refractoriness. To enable the change in response to all three stimuli to be compared, the response (percent fall in FEV1) to a fixed dose was measured for all three challenge tests. RESULTS: After budesonide there was an increase in PD20 histamine from 0.48 to 2.81 mumol and in PV20 EVH from 364 to 639 litres, and a significant correlation between the changes in PD20 histamine and PV20 EVH (r = 0.63). The median percentage fall in FEV1 in response to eucapnic hyperventilation, exercise, and histamine was similar before budesonide (25.5%, 26.6%, and 24.5%); the reduction in the percentage fall in FEV1 with budesonide was also similar for the three challenges (18.9%, 17.5%, and 16.6%), and all differed significantly from the changes following placebo. There was a significant correlation between change in percentage fall in FEV1 after budesonide with the three stimuli (histamine v exercise: r = 0.48; histamine v eucapnic hyperventilation: r = 0.46; exercise v eucapnic hyperventilation: r = 0.63). CONCLUSION: The similar magnitude of change in bronchial reactivity to all three stimuli after budesonide and the within subject correlation obtained between these changes suggest that corticosteroids act by a common mechanism to protect against eucapnic hyperventilation, exercise, and histamine.
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