As you read in Part I, asthma can have some bothersome symptoms that you may have and not know were associated with this condition. Because of that, I also stressed to you the importance of proper diagnosis, regular treatment and follow up with your doctor.
Here in Part II, I’d like to talk to you about some of the latest discoveries in the treatment of asthma that can reduce symptoms, prevent attacks and don’t involve using steroids! This is significant news for the roughly 20% of asthmatics who have become steroid resistant and cannot get enough relief from their inhalers.
The following findings show a lot of promise in the treatment of asthma:
Human Protein Prevents Asthma Attacks
In July 2010, researchers from Korean, Canadian, and American University Schools of Medicine reported their discovery that a human protein called IGFBP-3, or insulin growth factor binding protein 3, can specifically target asthma symptoms in asthmatic mice. It does this by interacting with a key cellular pathway that creates inflammation.
As we talked about in Part I, inflammation in the upper airway (caused by specific aggravants/allergens), causes swelling and narrowing of the airways and makes it difficult to get oxygen into the lungs. This can become a dire situation and requires immediate medical attention.
The relationship between this human protein and this cellular pathway is thought to be a boon to asthmatics as well as other diseases where inflammation causes symptoms such as rheumatoid arthritis or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Alair Bronchial Thermoplasty System
Another new treatment I’m optimistic about for patients with severe/persistent asthma is the new Alair Bronchial Thermoplasty System that uses radiofrequency energy instead of steroids to control symptoms.
The Alair was approved by the FDA for use in asthma patients in April 2010. It consists of a catheter with an electrode tip that supplies radiofrequency energy directly to the airways. A separate controller unit monitors the amount of energy that is delivered.
However, the Alair system is not for everyone and may have possible side effects such as bringing on an asthma attack, headaches or nausea. It cannot be used in patients with a pacemaker, defibrillator, or other implantable electronic devices or those who are sensitive to lidocaine, atropine or benzodiazepines. It is aimed at persons over the age of 18 and likely will require multiple sessions working on different areas of the lungs. However, trials of the system have showed reduction of severe asthma symptoms in the 297 people studied.
Cancer Drug Proves Helpful in Asthma
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh Scotland recently have found that a drug used to treat cancer, R-roscovitine, kills certain immune cells, called eosinophils which can aggravate symptoms of asthma. Eosinophils help the body fight off parasite infections, but too many of them in the respiratory tract can cause inflammation and trigger attacks.
Roscovitine could be an additional way to treat asthma in steroid-resistant patients, or to treat the side effects that can occur with steroids. Roscovitine is still in the testing stage for asthma patients, but ask your doctor for updates on this new research.
Vitamin D3 Helps Fight Steroid Resistance
Like my patients, if you have asthma, you know that a corticosteroid inhaler controls symptoms best. However, if you’re Vitamin D deficient, inhaler medication cannot work very well. In recent research, a study of asthmatic children showed that those who were lacking in Vitamin D had worse lung function and had to use more medication than those whose levels were optimal.
Supplementing with Vitamin D3 also helps reverse steroid resistance in asthmatics and reduces the amount of medication they have to use to control symptoms. If you live in the northern parts of the United States, you likely are vitamin D deficient. You can find out what your Vitamin D levels are with a simple blood test. Supplementing with 1,000 mg of Vitamin D3 should be sufficient for normal Vitamin D levels, but only your blood tests can tell for sure.
Acetaminophen Linked To Asthma
Many of my patients take acetaminophen for little aches and pains here and there. However, recent research out of the University of British Columbia has shown that acetaminophen may bring on asthma symptoms in previously non-asthmatic adults and children. The study revealed that asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, increased with the use of acetaminophen!
In fact, children who were later diagnosed with asthma were found to have had acetaminophen use in the year before their diagnosis. The study also showed that a child was more likely to develop asthma if their mother took acetaminophen during the pregnancy.
Another related study showed that even moderate acetaminophen use amongst 13-14 year-olds was associated with a 43% increase in asthma cases! With these findings, if you do not have asthma, I would caution very careful/low usage of acetaminophen and if you already have asthma to stay away from it.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Linked To Asthma
If you have frequent heartburn or perhaps regurgitate food, it’s possible that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease and are “aspirating” food particles or liquids into your lungs causing an asthmatic condition. This is usually noted by constant hacking cough after having a bout of heartburn and/or regurgitation of food.
This cough can also be accompanied by a hoarse, “hot potato” voice, as the vocal chord tissues get irritated by the constant acid reflux. Some people may ignore these symptoms, thinking they have a cold or bronchitis. If these episodes recur, you need see your doctor who can evaluate whether you have fluid in your lungs from refluxing food.
Herbal Medicines Complement Traditional Asthma Medications
Herbal medicines have long been used in the treatment of asthma with very good results. Keep in mind, though, that herbal medicines should not be used in place of your traditional rescue inhaler medications. Herbals work more on a long-term preventative level rather than an immediate, need-to-open-airways fast level that your rescue inhaler does. They can help keep inflammation down and keep your allergic trigger responses at a low level. If you want to try to add some herbal medications to your asthma treatment regimen, please see a naturopathic doctor, or an integrative medical doctor who is well versed in herbal medicine. They can help coordinate certain herbals with your existing medications to make sure they work together successfully.
- Adhatoda – works as a bronchodilator and helps you cough up mucus and clear plugged airways.
- Turmeric – contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that works like cortisone to help decrease inflammation and keep airways from spasming and tightening.
- Chinese skullcap – works as an antihistamine to reduce hypersensitivity and inflammation in airways.
- Grindelia – works to stop bronchiole spasming and has been used for the treatment of asthma since 1882.
- Licorice – restores calm breathing and stops spasming airways.
- Gingko biloba – has anti-PAF (platelet activating factor) which helps decrease allergic responses and reduced airway hypersensitivity in asthma patients.
Although asthma is a condition that requires regular medical attention, it does not have to be a debilitating or lifestyle limiting condition. There are many exciting new asthma treatments on the horizon that promise to deliver more relief to people who suffer from the condition. Ask your doctor about these and see which of them may be available to you.