In many patients with mild, persistent asthma, the percentage of eosinophils in sputum is less than 2% (low eosinophil level). The appropriate treatment for these patients is unknown. METHODS In this 42-week, double-blind, crossover trial, we assigned 295 patients who were at least 12 years of age and who had mild, persistent asthma to receive mometasone (an inhaled glucocorticoid), tiotropium (a long-acting muscarinic antagonist), or placebo. The patients were categorized according to the sputum eosinophil level (<2% or ≥2%). The primary outcome was the response to mometasone as compared with placebo and to tiotropium as compared with placebo among patients with a low sputum eosinophil level who had a prespecified differential response to one of the trial agents. The response was determined according to a hierarchical composite outcome that incorporated treatment failure, asthma control days, and the forced expiratory volume in 1 second; a two-sided P value of less than 0.025 denoted statistical significance. A secondary outcome was a comparison of results in patients with a high sputum eosinophil level and those with a low level. RESULTS A total of 73% of the patients had a low eosinophil level; of these patients, 59% had a differential response to a trial agent. However, there was no significant difference in the response to mometasone or tiotropium, as compared with placebo. Among the patients with a low eosinophil level who had a differential treatment response, 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 48 to 66) had a better response to mometasone, and 43% (95% CI, 34 to 52) had a better response to placebo (P=0.14). In contrast 60% (95% CI, 51 to 68) had a better response to tiotropium, whereas 40% (95% CI, 32 to 49) had a better response to placebo (P=0.029). Among patients with a high eosinophil level, the response to mometasone was significantly better than the response to placebo (74% vs. 26%) but the response to tiotropium was not (57% vs. 43%). CONCLUSIONS The majority of patients with mild, persistent asthma had a low sputum eosinophil level and had no significant difference in their response to either mometasone or tiotropium as compared with placebo. These data provide equipoise for a clinically directive trial to compare an inhaled glucocorticoid with other treatments in patients with a low eosinophil level.
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