Adult Onset Asthma: A Treatable Mystery


DALLAS, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) — About 25 million Americans have asthma and the number continues to go up. One in eleven children have it. One in twelve adults. While medical researchers still don’t know exactly what causes asthma, they can treat it better than ever before.

Until a trip to China, 58-year-old Scott Collins enjoyed running and playing sports without any problems. But ten years ago on that trip, he started wheezing and was diagnosed with adult onset asthma. 

“I remember friends of mine when I was a kid who had asthma, thinking about what that would be like and glad I didn’t have it. And so for me, to have it and to get it at that late stage really was a shock,” Collins shared.

But now Scott controls his asthma with an inhaler, regular medication and trips to see his doctor.

Mark W. Millard, MD, FCCP, Baylor Martha Foster Lung Center, Wanda and Collins Burton Endowed Chair in Pulmonology at Baylor University Medical Center says, “The fact is that we don’t know why some people have it as adults. We don’t know what factors of the environment that interact with this genetic predisposition.”

Researchers suspect vulnerable genes triggered later in life by air pollution, viral infections, tobacco smoke, fumes or allergies are what bring on asthma. But here’s good news, we now have advanced medications that prevent or suppress asthmatic attacks altogether. 

Dr. Millard continued, “It is one of the most exciting times in my professional career as we are poised on the crest of the wave to understand why someone develops asthma.”

With his asthma controlled, Scott is back on track, running with a great outlook on life.

“You gotta say, I’m gonna go do this. It’s not gonna stop me. It’s not gonna debilitate me,” Collins explained.

Remember, exercise can induce an asthma attack, but Dr. Millard says with proper medication and medical supervision people with asthma can exercise as much as anyone else. 

Contributors to this news report include: Don Wall, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Mark Montgomery, Videographer.

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BACKGROUND: Asthma causes swelling of the airways. This results in narrowing of the airways that carry air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. Allergens or irritating things entering the lungs trigger asthma symptoms. Symptoms include trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed with proper prevention and treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 million Americans have asthma. This is 7.6 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children. Asthma has been increasing since the early 1980s in all age, sex and racial groups. Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children, and also the top reason for missed school days.     Asthma is more common in adult women than adult men, and is more common in boys than girls. Currently, there are 6.2 million people with asthma under the age of 18.


EFFECTIVE TREATMENTS: There are two types of asthma medications: long-term control and quick-relief medications. Long-term control medications are preventive, taken daily to achieve and maintain control of asthma symptoms. Quick-relief medications are used to treat asthma attacks. They relieve symptoms rapidly and are taken on an as-needed basis. One of the most effective medications for controlling asthma is inhaled corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory medications. Taken early and as directed, these well-tolerated and safe medications can improve asthma control and normalize lung function. Immunotherapy or allergy shots should be considered if asthma is triggered by exposure to unavoidable allergens, or if symptoms occur three days a week and more than two nights a month. The shots are especially helpful when symptoms occur year-round or are not easily controlled with medication. Mark Millard, MD, Pulmonologist at Baylor University Medical Center, says, for severe asthma, there are now several injectable biologics that target the immune system which may be effective. In addition, a procedure called “bronchial thermoplasty” which delivers heat to the airways via a catheter may reduce symptoms in some people. 


MOVING FORWARD IN ASTHMA TREATMENTS: Scientists have discovered that when an active form of a key protein known as HMGB1 is increased, it relates to the narrowing of the airway in people with severe asthma. The finding will now enable drug makers to specifically target the protein in future treatment for non-allergy related asthma. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was carried out on mucous and airway muscle samples gathered from people with mild to moderate asthma, severe asthma and healthy volunteers. Dr. Ruth Saunders, lead author of the study from the University of Leicester Department of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation, said, “For a number of people with asthma, particularly severe asthma, treatment is not 100 percent effective. Although a number of new therapies are under investigation for allergy-related asthma, there is still a need for new therapies for asthma that is not related to allergies.” Saunders continued, “We have shown that the amount of HMGB1, a protein that can be released in the airways by cells involved in inflammation or by damaged cells, is increased in the mucous from the airways of people with severe asthma. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show a direct effect of HMGB1 on enhancing airway muscle contraction in response to stimuli.” Saunders concluded, “The findings bring us a step closer to improved treatments for people with severe asthma.”


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