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OBJECTIVES: To determine the effect of adding salmeterol 50 micrograms twice daily for six months to current treatment in subjects with asthma who control their inhaled corticosteroid dose according to a management plan. DESIGN: A double blind, randomised crossover study. SETTING: Nottingham. SUBJECTS: 101 subjects with mild or moderate asthma taking at least 200 micrograms twice daily of beclomethasone dipropionate or budesonide. INTERVENTIONS: Salmeterol 50 micrograms twice daily and placebo for six months each, with a one month washout. Subjects adjusted inhaled steroid dose according to guidelines. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Reduction in inhaled steroid use, exacerbations of asthma, and use of oral steroids. RESULTS: Data were available for 87 subjects. When compared with placebo salmeterol treatment was associated with a 17% reduction in inhaled steroid use (95% confidence interval 12% to 22%) with no significant difference in the number of subjects who had an exacerbation (placebo 25%, salmeterol 16%) or use of oral steroids. For secondary end points salmeterol treatment was associated with higher morning and evening peak expiratory flow and forced expiratory volume in one second; a reduction in symptoms, bronchodilator use and airway responsiveness to methacholine; and no effect on serum potassium concentration, 24 hour heart rate, or the final forced expiratory volume in one second achieved during a salbutamol dose-response study. CONCLUSIONS: In subjects who adjusted their inhaled steroid treatment according to guidelines the addition of salmeterol 50 micrograms twice daily was associated with a reduction in inhaled steroid use and improved lung function and symptom control.