Compared to placebo, the "long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilator" inhalers (which include Serevent and Advair) more than tripled users' risk of asthma-linked death, according to the report. Risks of hospitalization and life-threatening complications also went up.
"These agents should not be used," concluded lead author Dr. Shelley Salpeter, a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University and a physician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif.
However, another doctor said the drugs are still safe enough to use -- although they should be prescribed carefully.
Long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilators are designed to help relax airway muscles and improve breathing. They include popular medications such as Serevent (salmeterol) and Advair (which combines salmeterol with a steroid). The drugs are reportedly expected to gross nearly $7 billion in sales to consumers this year.
Another family of bronchodilators, called inhaled anticholinergics, are "very safe and effective," Salpeter said. But long-acting beta-agonist drugs have been controversial. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that the drugs could worsen symptoms and even lead to death.
In the new report, Salpeter and colleagues launched a broad review, or "meta-analysis," examining the results of 19 asthma drug studies involving nearly 34,000 participants.