Asthma Management Handbook

Prescribing other preventers for adults


Montelukast is less effective than inhaled corticosteroids for controlling asthma symptoms and reducing flare-ups in adults, but it may be considered as an alternative for (either of):

  • the extremely small proportion of people who experience intolerable dysphonia with inhaled corticosteroids despite correct inhaler technique and use of a spacer
  • people who refuse other preventer options, despite explanation of relative benefits and risks.

Note: PBS status as at March 2019: Montelukast treatment is not subsidised by the PBS for people aged 15 years or over. Special Authority is available for DVA gold card holders, or white card holders with approval for asthma treatments.

  • Montelukast use has been associated with neuropsychiatric adverse effects, including suicidality.
How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available), with particular reference to the following source(s):

  • Ducharme 20041
  • Lazarus et al. 20072
  • Peters-Golden et al. 20063
  • Weiler et al. 20104

Last reviewed version 2.0

When starting regular montelukast, prescribe standard adult dose and review response 6–8 weeks later. (Also review during this interval, if appropriate.)

Follow the steps for conducting a treatment trial.

Table. Steps for conducting a treatment trial

  1. Document baseline lung function.
  2. Document baseline asthma control using a validated standardised tool such as the Asthma Score.
  3. Discuss treatment goals and potential adverse effects with the person.
  4. Run treatment trial for agreed period (e.g. 4–8 weeks, depending on the treatment and clinical circumstances, including urgency).
  5. At an agreed interval, measure asthma control and lung function again and document any adverse effects.
  6. If asthma control has not improved despite correct inhaler technique and good adherence, resume previous treatment and consider referral for specialist consultation.

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How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available).

Although cromones are less effective than inhaled corticosteroid in controlling asthma and improving lung function, they may be considered for (any of):

  • people who choose not to take inhaled corticosteroids
  • people who cannot tolerate inhaled corticosteroids
  • people with symptoms limited to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available), with particular reference to the following source(s):

  • Guevara et al. 20065
  • Spooner et al. 20036
  • Weiler et al. 20104

If considering sodium cromoglycate or nedocromil, explain to patients that the medicine must be taken multiple times per day, and that the device requires daily maintenance, and explain how to do this before prescribing. (Cromones are rarely prescribed to manage asthma in adults.)

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available).

More information

Montelukast for adults: efficacy

In adults and adolescents with asthma that is not controlled by low-dose inhaled corticosteroid, the addition of a leukotriene receptor antagonist is less effective than the addition of a long-acting beta2 agonist in reducing the rate of asthma flare-ups that require treatment with oral corticosteroids.1 The addition of a leukotriene receptor antagonist is also associated with lesser improvement in lung function and quality of life than the addition of a long-acting beta2 agonist.1

Montelukast taken 1 hour before exercise can be used to manage exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, but it is less effective than short-acting beta2 agonists.4

Montelukast may improve lung function, reduce short-acting beta2 bronchodilator use, reduce symptoms, and improve quality of life in patients with aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease.7

Montelukast is sometimes prescribed as add-on treatment for adults with severe asthma. Current evidence does not support its long-term use unless the patient shows a clear improvement in symptoms during a treatment trial.8

Note: PBS status as at March 2019: Montelukast treatment is not subsidised by the PBS for people aged 15 years or over. Special Authority is available for DVA gold card holders or white card holders with approval for asthma treatments.

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Montelukast for adults and adolescents: psychiatric effects

Post-marketing surveillance reports led to concerns about a possible association between leukotriene receptor antagonist use and suicide risk.9 A recent case-control study reported a statistically significant association between the use of leukotriene receptor antagonists and suicide attempts in people aged 19–24 years. However, this association was no longer statistically significant after adjusting for potential confounding factors, including previous exposure to other asthma medicines and previous exposure to other medicines associated with suicide.9

Last reviewed version 2.0

Cromones for adults and adolescents

Sodium cromoglycate is less effective than inhaled corticosteroids in controlling asthma and improving lung function.5

Cromolyn sodium and nedocromil sodium taken before exercise can be used to manage exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, but they are only effective in approximately 50% of patients4 and are less effective than short-acting beta2 agonists.6

Cromones have a good safety profile and tolerance does not occur when either of these medicines is taken regularly.4 Maintenance of the CFC-free device is difficult for patients because the formulation is sticky and blocks the device unless it is washed and thoroughly dried every day. Therefore, patients need two mouthpieces to use alternately.

Adherence to preventer treatment: adults and adolescents

Most patients do not take their preventer medication as often as prescribed, particularly when symptoms improve, or are mild or infrequent. Whenever asthma control is poor despite apparently adequate treatment, poor adherence, as well as poor inhaler technique, are probable reasons to consider.

Poor adherence may be intentional and/or unintentional. Intentional poor adherence may be due to the person’s belief that the medicine is not necessary, or to perceived or actual adverse effects. Unintentional poor adherence may be due to forgetting or cost barriers.

Common barriers to the correct use of preventers include:

  • being unable to afford the cost of medicines or consultations to adjust the regimen
  • concerns about side effects
  • interference of the regimen with the person’s lifestyle
  • forgetting to take medicines
  • lack of understanding of the reason for taking the medicines
  • inability to use the inhaler device correctly due to physical or cognitive factors
  • health beliefs that are in conflict with the belief that the prescribed medicines are effective, necessary or safe (e.g. a belief that the prescribed preventer dose is ‘too strong’ or only for flare-ups, a belief that asthma can be overcome by psychological effort, a belief that complementary and alternative therapies are more effective or appropriate than prescribed medicines, mistrust of the health professional).

Adherence to preventers is significantly improved when patients are given the opportunity to negotiate the treatment regimen based on their goals and preferences.10

Assessment of adherence requires an open, non-judgemental approach.

Accredited pharmacists who undertake Home Medicines Reviews can assess adherence while conducting a review.

Table. Suggested questions to ask adults and older adolescents when assessing adherence to treatment

  1. Many people don’t take their medication as prescribed. In the last four weeks:
    • how many days a week would you have taken your preventer medication? None at all? One? Two? (etc).
    • ​how many times a day would you take it? Morning only? Evening only? Morning and evening? (or other)
    • each time, how many puffs would you take? One? Two? (etc).
  2. Do you find it easier to remember your medication in the morning, or the evening?

Source: Foster JM, Smith L, Bosnic-Anticevich SZ et al. Identifying patient-specific beliefs and behaviours for conversations about adherence in asthma. Intern Med J 2012; 42: e136-e44. Available from:

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Correct use of inhaler devices

Checking and correcting inhaler technique is essential to effective asthma management.

Most patients with asthma or COPD do not use their inhalers properly,11, 12,1313, 14 and most have not had their technique checked or corrected by a health professional.

Incorrect inhaler technique when using maintenance treatments increases the risk of severe flare-ups and hospitalisation for people with asthma or COPD.11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18

Poor asthma symptom control is often due to incorrect inhaler technique.19, 20

Incorrect inhaler technique when using inhaled corticosteroids increases the risk of local side effects like dysphonia and oral thrush.

The steps for using an inhaler device correctly differ between brands. Checklists of correct steps for each inhaler type and how-to videos are available from the National Asthma Council website.

Last reviewed version 2.0



  1. Ducharme FM. Addition of anti-leukotriene agents to inhaled corticosteroids for chronic asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004; Issue 1: CD003133. Available from:
  2. Lazarus SC, Chinchilli VM, Rollings NJ, et al. Smoking affects response to inhaled corticosteroids or leukotriene receptor antagonists in asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2007; 175: 783-790. Available from:
  3. Peters-Golden M, Swern A, Bird SS, et al. Influence of body mass index on the response to asthma controller agents. Eur Respir J. 2006; 27: 495-503. Available from:
  4. Weiler JM, Anderson SD, Randolph C, et al. Pathogenesis, prevalence, diagnosis, and management of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction: a practice parameter. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2010; 105: S1-47. Available from:
  5. Guevara JP, Ducharme F M, Keren R, et al. Inhaled corticosteroids versus sodium cromoglycate in children and adults with asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006; Issue 2: CD003558. Available from:
  6. Spooner CH, Spooner GR, Rowe BH. Mast-cell stabilising agents to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003; 4: CD002307. Available from:
  7. Kennedy, J. L., Stoner, A. N., Borish, L.. Aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease: Prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, and considerations for the future. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016; 30: 407-413. Available from:
  8. Centre of Excellence in Severe Asthma,, Severe asthma toolkit. **, Centre of Excellence in Severe Asthma 2018. Available from:
  9. Schumock GT, Stayner LT, Valuck RJ, et al. Risk of suicide attempt in asthmatic children and young adults prescribed leukotriene-modifying agents: a nested case-control study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012; 130: 368-75. Available from:
  10. Castro, M, Rubin, A S, Laviolette, M, et al. Effectiveness and safety of bronchial thermoplasty in the treatment of severe asthma: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled clinical trial. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010; 181: 116-124. Available from:
  11. The Inhaler Error Steering Committee,, Price, D., Bosnic-Anticevich, S., et al. Inhaler competence in asthma: common errors, barriers to use and recommended solutions. Respir Med. 2013; 107: 37-46. Available from:
  12. Bjermer, L.. The importance of continuity in inhaler device choice for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respiration; international review of thoracic diseases. 2014; 88: 346-52. Available from:
  13. Basheti, I A, Armour, C L, Bosnic-Anticevich, S Z, Reddel, H K. Evaluation of a novel educational strategy, including inhaler-based reminder labels, to improve asthma inhaler technique. Patient Educ Couns. 2008; 72: 26-33. Available from:
  14. Bosnic-Anticevich, S. Z., Sinha, H., So, S., Reddel, H. K.. Metered-dose inhaler technique: the effect of two educational interventions delivered in community pharmacy over time. The Journal of asthma : official journal of the Association for the Care of Asthma. 2010; 47: 251-6. Available from:
  15. Melani AS, Bonavia M, Cilenti V, et al. Inhaler mishandling remains common in real life and is associated with reduced disease control. Respir Med. 2011; 105: 930-8. Available from:
  16. Levy ML, Dekhuijzen PN, Barnes PJ, et al. Inhaler technique: facts and fantasies. A view from the Aerosol Drug Management Improvement Team (ADMIT). NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. 2016; 26: 16017. Available from:
  17. Haughney, J., Price, D., Barnes, N. C., et al. Choosing inhaler devices for people with asthma: current knowledge and outstanding research needs. Respiratory medicine. 2010; 104: 1237-45. Available from:
  18. Giraud, V., Roche, N.. Misuse of corticosteroid metered-dose inhaler is associated with decreased asthma stability. The European respiratory journal. 2002; 19: 246-51. Available from:
  19. Harnett, C. M., Hunt, E. B., Bowen, B. R., et al. A study to assess inhaler technique and its potential impact on asthma control in patients attending an asthma clinic. J Asthma. 2014; 51: 440-5.
  20. Hardwell, A., Barber, V., Hargadon, T., et al. Technique training does not improve the ability of most patients to use pressurised metered-dose inhalers (pMDIs). Prim Care Respir J. 2011; 20: 92-6. Available from: