Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and sodium cromoglycate (SCG) are both used to help people with asthma. SCG is believed to have a low risk of causing long-term side effects, but despite anxieties relating to routine use of steroids, the use of ICS has steadily increased since the 1990s.
While they are both known to work, there has previously been a debate as to whether one is superior to the other.
By pooling data from randomized controlled trials that directly compared the effects of ICS and SCG the Cochrane Review Authors could assess the relative benefits of each. They considered measures of lung function, asthma control and the use of general healthcare services such as GPs and hospitals.
Their conclusion was that ICS controls asthma better than SCG and that it also leads to improved lung function. They were, however, unable to decide whether there were differences in side-effects as most of the trials ran for too short a time to assess long-term outcomes.
"The superiority of ICS over SCG appears to increase when patients use moderate doses of ICS, compared with when low doses of ICS are used," says lead Review Author Dr James Guevara, who works in the department of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
The Review Authors believe there is little need for further research comparing the effectiveness of these two drugs, although some research may help clarify differences in side effects and the use of healthcare services.
Review Title: Guevara JP et. al. Inhaled corticosteroids versus sodium cromoglycate in children and adults with asthma. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003558.pub2. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003558.pub2.