The lead article in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine was on leukotriene antagonists in treating asthma. The lead-article status reflects the importance of this research.

As reported, scientists at the University of Aberdeen, U.K., evaluated leukotriene antagonists in two ways.

The first part of the study compared the adding of inhaled steroids to the adding of leukotriene antagonists as add-on therapy for control of asthma. In the hundreds of patients they studied, the researchers found the two therapies to be equally effective. Both restored asthma control so that symptoms improved and the need for rescue medication was reduced.

The second prong of the study looked at patients who were already on an inhaled steroid but still needed more controller help. Again the patients had additional therapy either in the form of a leukotriene antagonist or a long-acting bronchodilator (Salmeterol).

Both groups improved with the add-on medication, and the improvement was similar in both groups.

The leukotriene antagonist used in this study was montelukast (Singulair), but there are two other drugs in this family – Accolate and Xyflo. They work by reducing the inflammation that causes asthma. This is also how steroids work.

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