American doctors need to completely change the way they treat asthma, the potentially life-threatening breathing trouble, a report said Tuesday.

Asthma should be treated as a chronic, serious condition and not only when a patient wheezes or has other symptoms of the airway inflammation, according to an international panel of experts, whose findings were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.Currently popular medications to treat asthma attacks should be sidelined in favor of inhaled corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs that may have better long-term results, the report said.

The International Asthma Management Project, a group of 18 experts assembled by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said asthma should no longer be treated as an episodic disorder.

Patients suffer from inflammation of the airways even when they have no symptoms, so anti-inflammatory medications should be prescribed, the researchers said.

Treatment with such medications as corticosteroids may be able to prevent irreversible airway obstruction, which can occur when the body's immune system responds to airway inflammation.

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"Possibly by treating the patients very early with anti-inflammatory agents, we may reduce these long-term side effects," Dr. Jean Bosquet of the Universite de Montpellier in France told the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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