Background: Divergent strategies have emerged for the management of severe asthma. One strategy utilises high and fixed doses of maintenance treatment, usually inhaled corticosteroid/long-acting β 2-agonist (ICS/LABA), supplemented by a short-acting β 2-agonist (SABA) as needed. Alternatively, budesonide/formoterol is used as both maintenance and reliever therapy. The latter is superior to fixed-dose treatment in reducing severe exacerbations while achieving similar or better asthma control in other regards. Exacerbations may be reduced by the use of budesonide/formoterol as reliever medication during periods of unstable asthma. We examined the risk of a severe exacerbation in the period after a single day with high reliever use.Methods: Episodes of high reliever use were quantified and exacerbations occurring post-index day with these episodes were examined post hoc in two double-blind studies comparing the efficacy and safety of budesonide/formoterol maintenance and reliever therapy (Symbicort SMART™, Turbuhaler®) 160/4.5 μg twice daily plus as needed with similar or higher maintenance doses of ICS/LABA plus SABA or formoterol.Results: Budesonide/formoterol maintenance and reliever therapy significantly reduced the risk of episodes of high reliever use (>6 inhalations/day) vs. all alternative ICS/LABA regimens. With conventional fixed-dose treatment the need for exacerbation treatment within 21 days ranged from 6.0-10.1% of days post-index for all regimens compared with 2.5-3.4% of days with budesonide/formoterol maintenance and reliever therapy.Conclusions: Budesonide/formoterol maintenance and reliever therapy reduces the incidence of high reliever episodes and the exacerbation burden immediately following these episodes vs. alternative ICS/LABA plus SABA regimens at up to double the maintenance dose of ICS.Trial registration: These studies do not have registration numbers as they were conducted before clinical trial registration was required.