The UK’s largest asthma study using real-world data has confirmed a link between over-reliance on SABA inhalers (short-acting beta-2 bronchodilators, also referred to as rescue inhalers) and an increase in asthma exacerbations and asthma-related healthcare utilisation.

The study, which analysed data from more than half a million UK patients, was developed by AstraZeneca jointly with experts from the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, and leading respiratory healthcare professionals.

According to the data, over 200,000 people (38%) were classified as having high SABA inhaler use (prescribed ≥3 inhalers/year) which was associated with around twice the number of asthma attacks compared with low users (prescribed 0-2 inhalers/year), regardless of asthma severity.

Around 5.4 million people (4.3 million adults) live with asthma in the UK. Every 10 seconds someone in the UK has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack, and, on average, three people dye from the disease every day, highlighting the need to improve treatment strategies.

Since 2019 treatment of asthma in adults and adolescents with SABA alone is no longer recommended by Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA). Patients should receive ICS-containing controller treatment to reduce the risk of serious exacerbations and control symptoms in adults and adolescents with asthma.

However, despite being prescribed regular maintenance therapy with inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) or ICS/long-acting beta 2 agonist (LABA), as many as 39% of patients believe there is no need to take preventer medication every day when they feel well.

“Asthma attacks can be terrifying events for patients, and sometimes, they can be life-threatening. This real-world UK data, confirms the association between SABA over-use (or over-reliance) and the increased risk of severe attacks observed in other studies around the world,” said Yang Xu, head of Inhaled Respiratory Medicine, AstraZeneca UK.

“It also highlights the scale of over-reliance in the UK. Now, more than ever, we need to adopt a mindset of zero tolerance for asthma attacks, and eliminate SABA over-reliance.”