Dubai: Health authorities have sought to reassure asthma patients over the safety of beta-agonist asthma medication that a US study claims causes four out of five asthma deaths.

The US study, published in the June issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that patients who inhaled the medicines were 3.5 times more likely to die from asthma and 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalised.

It also suggested that three asthma inhalers containing salmeterol and formoteral, such as Serevent and Foradil, be withdrawn from the market.

UAE asthma expert, however, are sceptical over the findings. Dr Bassam Mahboub, president of the UAE Allergy and Immunology Society, told Gulf News that the study had several flaws.

He said the patients who died were very sick and did not comply with the medication protocol.

"The study can't explain why they died, all we know is that they were very sick. They were already high-risk," he said.

He said long-acting beta agonists, prescribed as a maintenance medication to control asthma, should not be pulled from the market as they were safe to use. However, he added that they should not be used alone to control asthma.

"They should not be taken alone because they are not as effective. If they are combined with inhaled steroids, they work better," he said.

He added that the medicine was very good for people who suffer three to four asthma attacks a week, with one or two occurring at night.

However, Dr Mahboub advised patients only on these asthma medications, such as Foradil and Serevent, to go and see their physician immediately.

About 15 to 20 per cent of the population in the UAE are believed to suffer from asthma, similar to asthma incidence rates in the Middle East.

Symptoms: Chronic lung condition

Asthma is a chronic lung condition characterised by difficulty in breathing. People with asthma have extra sensitive or hyperresponsive airways. The airways react by narrowing or obstructing when they become irritated.

This makes it difficult for the air to move in and out. This narrowing or obstruction can cause one or a combination of symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

- World Health Organisation