Asthma is a chronic disease that can be life-threatening. It has claimed many lives, yet an asthma diagnosis is not an automatic death sentence. Many asthmatics live a full life, mainly because they have learned how to identify what triggers their attacks and take appropriate measures to prevent attacks before they strike.

One common asthma trigger is the common cold. British researchers have recently made a finding that may explain why.

Study Findings

The researchers conducted a study that uncovered the presence of a cytokine called IL-25 and its possible role in the effect that cold-causing viruses have on asthmatics. The study showed that IL-25 was more likely to be produced in the cells that line the airways of asthmatics. IL-25 appeared to trigger a chain of events that causes attacks. The typical symptoms of an asthma attack, which include increased mucus and obstructed airways, are what is known as type-2 immune responses.

The common cold is caused by rhinoviruses. The study showed that rhinovirus infection induces IL-25. IL-25 then triggers the production of other type-2 cytokines, creating a domino effect that drives the type-2 immune response. In an asthmatic, it would trigger an attack.

Findings Spur Hope for New Asthma Drug

The current asthma medications on the market effectively treat regular asthma symptoms, but these drugs can significantly worsen symptoms in people who suffer from cold-triggered asthma. The researchers hope to develop a drug to target and block the action of IL-25 in humans.

Such a breakthrough could pave the way for a medication specifically for people with cold-triggered asthma. It could be possibly lead to developing other effective treatments.

What You Can Do In the Meantime

Whether or not a drug or treatment for cold-triggered asthma is developed, asthmatics with cold-triggered asthma must remain vigilant in doing all they can to prevent attacks. The Mayo Clinic offers a few tips:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Stay away from other people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick
  • Get an annual flu shot. While you are at it, ask your doctor if you should also get pneumonia shot
  • Get plenty of exercise, fluids and rest- all of which promote a healthy immune system
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth (where germs can enter your body)
  • If you do catch a cold, ask your doctor about over-the-counter remedies you can take
  • Call your doctor at once if your asthma symptoms flare up when you do have a cold
  • Follow your prescribed asthma plan if you begin to have symptoms of a pending asthma attack. If you do not have an asthma plan, ask your doctor to give you one
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe symptoms such as high fever, chills, pain when you inhale deeply or trouble breathing

Asthma is a serious condition. You will want to learn the signs of an attack and do your best to avoid triggers.

By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT