New study confirms combined inhaler significantly reduces risk of severe asthma attacks

A new study has confirmed a combined inhaler significantly reduces the risk of severe asthma attacks.

Experts say the study is a major milestone in advancing the treatment of asthma in New Zealand and across the globe but more still needs to be done to control the condition.

A single pump and a breath of relief. It's a familiar sound for the one-in-eight or 610,000 New Zealanders who live with asthma every day.

They enduring wheezing, difficulty breathing, and at its worst severe asthma attacks that result in hospital visits and even tragic deaths.

"What's most concerning is that we have the second-highest rate of death for under-35-year-olds from asthma in the developed world - that is something that New Zealand should be really concerned about," said Asthma New Zealand CEO Katheren Leitner.

Traditionally asthma has been treated by patients using separate preventer and reliever inhalers. But in 2020 the 2-in-1 inhaler became the default inhaler prescribed by doctors.

And the study by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand has confirmed its success.

"It's far more effective in treating asthma than the traditional reliever alone. It reduced severe attacks by at least a quarter and also improved their asthma control," said Professor Richard Beasley, director of the Medical Research Institute NZ and co-author of the study.

Doctors who've prescribed the 2-in-1 inhaler, combining preventer medicine budesonide and reliever medicine formoterol, have noticed incredible results.

"I've had patients who've gone from poorly-controlled, frequently-exasperated needing steroids and going to the emergency department to well-controlled with asthma having minimal impact on their lives," Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director Dr James Fingleton said.

While the study is welcome news to asthma advocates, they believe the Government needs to take the issue more seriously.

"To have the second-highest rate of asthma in the world and yet we have no national asthma management strategy in place - I think the Ministry of Health really need to be called to account on that," said Leitner.

Researchers will now look more into the new combination of a preventer containing budesonide and the reliever salbutamol (commonly known as Ventolin). 

So more asthmatics can breathe easy.