Inhaled short-acting anticholinergics (SAAC) and short-acting beta₂-agonists (SABA) are effective therapies for adult patients with acute asthma who present to the emergency department (ED). It is unclear, however, whether the combination of SAAC and SABA treatment is more effective in reducing hospitalisations compared to treatment with SABA alone.
To conduct an up-to-date systematic search and meta-analysis on the effectiveness of combined inhaled therapy (SAAC + SABA agents) vs. SABA alone to reduce hospitalisations in adult patients presenting to the ED with an exacerbation of asthma.
We searched MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, SCOPUS, LILACS, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global and evidence-based medicine (EBM) databases using controlled vocabulary, natural language terms, and a variety of specific and general terms for inhaled SAAC and SABA drugs. The search spanned from 1946 to July 2015. The Cochrane Airways Group provided search results from the Cochrane Airways Group Register of Trials which was most recently conducted in July 2016. An extensive search of the grey literature was completed to identify any other potentially relevant studies.
Included studies were randomised or controlled clinical trials comparing the effectiveness of combined inhaled therapy (SAAC and SABA) to SABA treatment alone to prevent hospitalisations in adults with acute asthma in the emergency department. Two independent review authors assessed studies for inclusion using pre-determined criteria.
For dichotomous outcomes, we calculated individual and pooled statistics as risk ratios (RR) or odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) using a random-effects model and reporting heterogeneity (I²). For continuous outcomes, we reported individual trial results using mean differences (MD) and pooled results as weighted mean differences (WMD) or standardised mean differences (SMD) with 95% CIs using a random-effects model.
We included 23 studies that involved a total of 2724 enrolled participants. Most studies were rated at unclear or high risk of bias.Overall, participants receiving combination inhaled therapy were less likely to be hospitalised (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.87; participants = 2120; studies = 16; I² = 12%; moderate quality of evidence). An estimated 65 fewer patients per 1000 would require hospitalisation after receiving combination therapy (95% 30 to 95), compared to 231 per 1000 patients receiving SABA alone. Although combination inhaled therapy was more effective than SABA treatment alone in reducing hospitalisation in participants with severe asthma exacerbations, this was not found for participants with mild or moderate exacerbations (test for difference between subgroups P = 0.02).Participants receiving combination therapy were more likely to experience improved forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV₁) (MD 0.25 L, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.48; participants = 687; studies = 6; I² = 70%; low quality of evidence), peak expiratory flow (PEF) (MD 36.58 L/min, 95% CI 23.07 to 50.09; participants = 1056; studies = 12; I² = 25%; very low quality of evidence), increased percent change in PEF from baseline (MD 24.88, 95% CI 14.83 to 34.93; participants = 551; studies = 7; I² = 23%; moderate quality of evidence), and were less likely to return to the ED for additional care (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.98; participants = 1180; studies = 5; I² = 0%; moderate quality of evidence) than participants receiving SABA alone.Participants receiving combination inhaled therapy were more likely to experience adverse events than those treated with SABA agents alone (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.28 to 3.20; participants = 1392; studies = 11; I² = 14%; moderate quality of evidence). Among patients receiving combination therapy, 103 per 1000 were likely to report adverse events (95% 31 to 195 more) compared to 131 per 1000 patients receiving SABA alone.
Overall, combination inhaled therapy with SAAC and SABA reduced hospitalisation and improved pulmonary function in adults presenting to the ED with acute asthma. In particular, combination inhaled therapy was more effective in preventing hospitalisation in adults with severe asthma exacerbations who are at increased risk of hospitalisation, compared to those with mild-moderate exacerbations, who were at a lower risk to be hospitalised. A single dose of combination therapy and multiple doses both showed reductions in the risk of hospitalisation among adults with acute asthma. However, adults receiving combination therapy were more likely to experience adverse events, such as tremor, agitation, and palpitations, compared to patients receiving SABA alone.