Asthma Guidelines Update FeNO, Intermittent ICS Use

Richard Mark Kirkner, MDedge News

December 16, 2020

A long-awaited update to asthma management guidelines, developed by an expert panel at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, has been released.

The updated guidelines address six priority topics, including refined recommendations for the use of fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) testing, intermittent inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMA), and bronchial thermoplasty, but notably exclude any recommendations for the use of fast-emerging biological therapy.

Dr William Busse

"Biological therapy is the major step forward," said William W. Busse, MD, professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and lead author of the previous guidelines (Bethesda, Md.: NHLBI, 2007). "It wasn't within the scope of work, so it's not a criticism, but it is an important shortcoming," he said. The omission identifies the need for the next update. "This is an area that has to be dealt with," Busse stated in an interview.

Including biologic agents would have delayed the release of the recommendations for another year or 2, wrote the expert panel working group of the NHLBI, "and this was felt to be unacceptable." The working group, overseen by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee, also acknowledged the update is "not a complete revision" of the 2007 guidelines.

Dr Mary Cataletto

The update provides an evidenced-based review of six key topics in asthma care, as Mary Cataletto, MD, FCCP, professor of pediatrics at New York University Long Island, Mineola, pointed out: use of FeNO, indoor allergen mitigation, use of intermittent ICS and LAMA for asthma, role of subcutaneous and sublingual immunotherapy in the treatment of allergic asthma, and the use of bronchial thermoplasty.

Dr Michael Schatz

"It has been 13 years since the last update and substantial progress has been made since then in understanding how to best treat children and adults with asthma," said working group member Michael Schatz, MD, MS, FCCP, an allergy specialist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Diego.

According to Schatz, the most important updated recommendations are:

  • Conditional recommendation for the use of ICS in children aged infant to 4 years with recurrent wheezing with respiratory infections.

  • Use of combination ICS-formoterol for maintenance and to relieve flares in patients with moderate to severe asthma.

  • Addition of the LAMA inhaled bronchodilator as add-on therapy for severe asthma not controlled by long-acting beta-agonist (LABA)/ICS combination medications.

Another important update, Cataletto said, is "shared decision-making among members of asthma teams in order to improve asthma care across all age groups."

In all, the update includes 19 recommendations in the six subject areas. Each recommendation is notated with two values: its strength, either strong or conditional, and the certainty of evidence behind it, either low, moderate, or high. For example, the recommendation for ICS in young children that Schatz referred to has a conditional strength of recommendation with moderate certainty of evidence.

Using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) methodology to determine strength of recommendation is a notable innovation of the latest guidelines, Busse noted.

Recommendations (strength of recommendation/certainty of evidence) include:

  • Use of FeNO in children and adults when the asthma diagnosis is uncertain (conditional/moderate) or in those with allergic asthma and an uncertain course of management (conditional/low).

  • Avoid standalone FeNO to evaluate asthma control or the likelihood or severity of future exacerbations, or for in infants to 4-year-olds with recurrent wheezing (strong/low for both).

  • Avoid allergen mitigation in routine asthma management for patients who don't have sensitivity to specific indoor allergens (conditional/low).

  • Multicomponent allergen-specific mitigation when specific allergen sensitivity has been identified and pest management alone for symptoms related to specific pest exposure (conditional/low for both).

  • Impermeable bedding covers should be part of a multicomponent mitigation strategy, not as a standalone tool, for patients with asthma and dust mite sensitivity (conditional/moderate).

  • Daily ICS at onset of a respiratory tract infection along with as-needed short-acting beta-agonists in children aged 4 years and younger with recurrent wheezing but no wheezing between infections rather than as-needed standalone SABA (conditional/high).

  • For adults and children aged 12 years and older with mild persistent asthma, either daily low-dose ICS with as-needed SABA or as-needed ICS and SABA concomitantly (conditional/moderate).

  • Avoid short-course increased ICS dosing for patients aged 4 years and older with good adherence to daily ICS therapy (conditional/low).

  • For patients aged 4 years and older with moderate to severe persistent asthma, a preference for combined ICS-formoterol inhaler over higher dose ICS daily and intermittent SABA or daily ICS-LABA with intermittent SABA (strong/high [aged 12 years and older]; moderate [aged 4-11 years]).

  • A preference for combined ICS-formoterol for both daily and relief therapy for patients 12 years and older with severe persistent asthma over higher-dose ICS-LABA daily and intermittent SABA (conditional/high).

  • A preference for adding LABA rather than LAMA to ICS in patients aged 12 years and older with uncontrolled persistent asthma (conditional/moderate).

  • If LABA isn't used, add LAMA to ICS in patients aged 12 years and older with uncontrolled persistent asthma rather than continuing the same dose of ICS alone (conditional/moderate).

  • In those same patients already on combined ICS-LABA therapy, add LAMA rather than continuing the same dose of ICS-LABA (conditional/moderate).

  • Use subcutaneous immunotherapy as a potential adjunct to standard drug therapy in patients aged 5 years and older with mild to moderate allergic asthma when their asthma is controlled on immunotherapy (conditional/moderate).

  • Avoid sublingual immunotherapy in patients with persistent allergic asthma (conditional/moderate).

  • Avoid bronchial thermoplasty in those 18 years and older with persistent asthma, but consider it in patients who can accept the short-term worsening symptoms or unknown long-term side effects in exchange for the potential benefits (conditional/moderate).

One of the key elements of the guidelines is the use of the SMART (single maintenance and reliever therapy) approach to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of intermittent ICS with formoterol, Busse noted. "I think that's a very significant advance. The literature is replete with evidence to support this. Secondly, it really makes life convenient for patients; you have one inhaler."

The recommendation on SABA use is also significant, Busse said. "Data have emerged to suggest that if you're having a need for one of these rescue medications, it's due to an increase in inflammation in the lower airway, and you want to give an ICS which will act on the inflammation along with the bronchodilator. That's a new concept, and it's a very significant step forward."

Schatz disclosed financial relationships with Merck, Teva, and ALK-Abello, but was recused from the writing, discussion, and voting related to the immunotherapy recommendation. Cataletto and Busse have no relevant relationships to disclose.

SOURCE: Schatz M et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2020;146:1217-70.

This article originally appeared in Chest Physician.


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