Inhaled Corticosteroids and Pneumonia

Stopping Inhaled Corticosteroids Reduces Pneumonia

Background: Inhaled corticosteroids are an inhaled form of prednisone which reduces inflammation. Inhaled corticosteorids are approved  by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat those with COPD in combination with a long-acting beta2-agonist bronchodilator. The names of these medications are: Advair; Symbicort; and Breo. Studies show that these medications make it easier to breathe and reduce the chances of an exacerbation (worsening of shortness of breath, increased coughing, and/or more mucus) usually due to a chest infection. However, there is an increased risk of pneumonia in those with COPD who use Advair, Symbicort, or Breo. Study Findings: In the November 2015 issue of CHEST (volume 148; pages 1177-1183) Samy Suissa, Ph.D., and colleagues examined health insurance information in over 103,000 individuals with COPD who used inhaled corticosteroids in the Quebec province of Canada from 1990 through 2009. Some of these stopped thier use during the study period. The main finding was that stopping inhaled corticosteroids was associated with a 37% decrease in the rate of serious pneumonia (either requiring hospitalization or death from pneumonia). My Comments: Both you and your health care provider should consider expected benefits and possible risks of any medication that you take. The findings of this study highlight the concern of the increased risk of pneumonia in someone taking inhaled corticosteroids and shows a decreased risk when inhaled corticosteroids are stopped. In my practice, I advise someone with COPD to stop the medication containing an inhaled corticosteroid IF he/she has had pneumonia. I caution the individual that stopping the medication may make their breathing worse, and make sure that the person is taking both classes of different bronchodilators to improve breathing. As always, I encourage you to discuss your individual situation with you health care provider.  

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.