New Asthma Hope

It is thought that a simple test for the prediction of asthma in children, which will soon be presented before the British Thoracic Society, will be a huge step towards the prevention of asthma symptoms and asthma fatalities among children. Asthma is currently affecting a huge, 1.1 million children in the UK. There is no known cause of this condition but it does seem to run in families.

Asthma is a potentially life threatening condition in which the airways can become constricted and breathing made difficult. When an asthmatic breathes in air containing anything that might irritate them, such as dust or pollen, the muscles around the airways tighten and inflammation occurs, preventing air getting to the lungs. This makes it difficult for the patient to breath and can cause an attack. Currently, treatments for initial relief from an asthma flare up include bronchodilators, which expand these airways and clear mucus. There are a number of treatments that are taken for long term control and include methylxanthines, oral corticosteroids, immunotherapy or allergy shots, if the asthma is allergy related. Some of these treatments though, such as the corticosteroids, are very powerful steroids and are best taken in lower doses. This innovative test, discovered by researchers at the Queen Mary University of London hospital, will thankfully be able to predict exactly what doses are required on an individual basis for the first time. This means that children will be receiving only as much treatment as they will need, preventing further damage and better managing the condition to prevent symptoms worsening.

The test, which is simply the examination of a urine sample, measures the level of inflammation in the body, inflammation that tends to indicate the risk of an impending asthma attack and also predict when the attack might occur. 73 children, between the ages of 7 and 15, were part of the study carried out to examine the success of the test. It was found that chemicals activated by asthma, known as prostaglandins metabolites, are found in the urine, and varying levels predicted definitive outcomes in terms of instances of attack. The children were observed continually, with and without symptoms. The samples were then compared with samples from children who did not suffer with the disease and the accuracy and effectiveness of the test was clear.

Knowing the particular level of inflammation in the child, it is easier to predict the exact amount of steroid treatment that individual child will require. In doing this, the authors of the report hope that the number of asthma attacks will be greatly reduced and also the disease managed to greater effect, across the board.

This effective way of examining patients will also have an impact on the amount of money spent by the NHS on asthma attack treatment, which is currently costly.  Children who experience symptoms of asthma regularly, under the age of four, should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible and attend annual check-ups thereafter.

For patients with severe asthma, there was some good news from the States recently about Three Part Bronchial Thermoplasty, about which more can be read here.