In “Asthma: Newer Tx options mean more targeted therapy” (J Fam Pract. 2020;65:135-144), Rali et al recommend azithromycin as an add-on therapy to ICS-LABA for a select group of patients with uncontrolled persistent asthma (neutrophilic phenotype)—a Grade C recommendation. However, the best available evidence demonstrates that azithromycin is equally efficacious for uncontrolled persistent eosinophilic asthma.1,2 Thus, family physicians need not refer patients for bronchoscopy to identify the inflammatory “phenotype.”
An important unanswered question is whether azithromycin needs to be administered continuously. Emerging evidence indicates that some patients may experience prolonged benefit after time-limited azithromycin treatment. This suggests that the mechanism of action, which has been described as anti-inflammatory, is (at least in part) antimicrobial.3
For azithromycin-treated asthma patients who experience a significant clinical response after 3 to 6 months of treatment, I recommend that the prescribing clinician try taking the patient off azithromycin to assess whether clinical improvement persists or wanes. Nothing is lost, and much is gained, by this approach; patients who relapse can resume azithromycin, and patients who remain improved are spared exposure to an unnecessary and prolonged treatment.
David L. Hahn, MD, MS