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Study Sends New Warning on Asthma Drugs

For years, asthma specialists have debated whether a commonly used drug -- salmeterol -- can make the disease worse. The Food and Drug Administration approved strong new warning labels on medications containing the drug last month.

But the debate over whether it should stay on the market continues. Millions of people with asthma use inhalers, like Advair, that give them long-lasting relief from the wheezing, suffocating symptoms of the disease. Studies suggest, however, that these drugs can sometimes make the underlying disease worse, even as they improve symptoms. The result can be a sudden severe asthma attack that requires hospitalization and might even cause death.

The most recent analysis, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reports that salmeterol increases the risk of hospitalization for any form of asthma.

Asthma patients taking Advair and other drugs containing salmeterol are advised to monitor their symptoms closely and to have a clear plan to seek help if their symptoms get worse.

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Since he joined NPR in 2000, Knox has covered a broad range of issues and events in public health, medicine, and science. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Talk of the Nation, and newscasts.