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Special Communication
December 3, 2020

Managing Asthma in Adolescents and Adults: 2020 Asthma Guideline Update From the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program

Author Affiliations
  • 1UCONN Health, Farmington, Connecticut
  • 2University of Vermont, Burlington
  • 3University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, Chicago
  • 4University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison
  • 5University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora
  • 6Department of Allergy, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Diego, California
JAMA. 2020;324(22):2301-2317. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.21974

Importance  Asthma is a major public health problem worldwide and is associated with excess morbidity, mortality, and economic costs associated with lost productivity. The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program has released the 2020 Asthma Guideline Update with updated evidence-based recommendations for treatment of patients with asthma.

Objective  To report updated recommendations for 6 topics for clinical management of adolescents and adults with asthma: (1) intermittent inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs); (2) add-on long-acting muscarinic antagonists; (3) fractional exhaled nitric oxide; (4) indoor allergen mitigation; (5) immunotherapy; and (6) bronchial thermoplasty.

Evidence Review  The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Advisory Council chose 6 topics to update the 2007 asthma guidelines based on results from a 2014 needs assessment. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted systematic reviews of these 6 topics based on literature searches up to March-April 2017. Reviews were updated through October 2018 and used by an expert panel (n = 19) that included asthma content experts, primary care clinicians, dissemination and implementation experts, and health policy experts to develop 19 new recommendations using the GRADE method. The 17 recommendations for individuals aged 12 years or older are reported in this Special Communication.

Findings  From 20 572 identified references, 475 were included in the 6 systematic reviews to form the evidence basis for these recommendations. Compared with the 2007 guideline, there was no recommended change in step 1 (intermittent asthma) therapy (as-needed short-acting β2-agonists [SABAs] for rescue therapy). In step 2 (mild persistent asthma), either daily low-dose ICS plus as-needed SABA therapy or as-needed concomitant ICS and SABA therapy are recommended. Formoterol in combination with an ICS in a single inhaler (single maintenance and reliever therapy) is recommended as the preferred therapy for moderate persistent asthma in step 3 (low-dose ICS-formoterol therapy) and step 4 (medium-dose ICS-formoterol therapy) for both daily and as-needed therapy. A short-term increase in the ICS dose alone for worsening of asthma symptoms is not recommended. Add-on long-acting muscarinic antagonists are recommended in individuals whose asthma is not controlled by ICS-formoterol therapy for step 5 (moderate-severe persistent asthma). Fractional exhaled nitric oxide testing is recommended to assist in diagnosis and monitoring of symptoms, but not alone to diagnose or monitor asthma. Allergen mitigation is recommended only in individuals with exposure and relevant sensitivity or symptoms. When used, allergen mitigation should be allergen specific and include multiple allergen-specific mitigation strategies. Subcutaneous immunotherapy is recommended as an adjunct to standard pharmacotherapy for individuals with symptoms and sensitization to specific allergens. Sublingual immunotherapy is not recommended specifically for asthma. Bronchial thermoplasty is not recommended as part of standard care; if used, it should be part of an ongoing research effort.

Conclusions and Relevance  Asthma is a common disease with substantial human and economic costs globally. Although there is no cure or established means of prevention, effective treatment is available. Use of the recommendations in the 2020 Asthma Guideline Update should improve the health of individuals with asthma.

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