According to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, 44,000 people have an asthma attack every day in the U.S. For African Americans, we are three times more likely to be hospitalized for and well as die from asthma attacks. While environmental triggers like smoke and pollen are common culprits, during the winter months there’s a potentially life-threatening trigger that’s almost unavoidable: the common cold. The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that 80-90% of attacks are caused by rhinoviruses, the same infections of the airways that are the main cause of colds.
Until now, it’s been unclear how a simple cold could trigger severe asthma attacks, but scientists in the UK may have found the answer: the IL-25 molecule.
“Our research has shown for the first time that the cells that line the airways of asthmatics are more prone to producing a small molecule called IL-25, which then appears to trigger a chain of events that causes attacks,” said Dr. Nathan Bartlett, joint lead author of the study and honorary lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, according to a report from Medical News Today .
He added, “By targeting this molecule at the top of the cascade, we could potentially discover a much-needed new treatment to control this potentially life-threatening reaction in asthma sufferers.”
The study, published in the October 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine, examined cells taken from the lungs of people with asthma and from healthy volunteers. Researchers found that when cells were infected with a rhinovirus, the cells from people with asthma had 10 times more IL-25 cytokines than the cells from the healthy group.
An IL-25 blocker tested successfully on mice and the next step is to attempt blocking IL-25 in humans. “Excitingly, this research, although still at an early stage, could potentially lead to the development of new medicines to prevent life-threatening asthma attacks,” said Dr. Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK.
In the meantime, keep these tips in mind if you have asthma and find yourself battling a cold or the flu:
Practice self-care: Stay home and rest! Give yourself plenty of fluids to keep your nasal passages moist and to help expel mucus.
Monitor your symptoms: Are you wheezing, coughing or feel tightness in your chest? You may need to call your doctor to advise if you need to use asthma rescue medications.
Use a peak flow meter: See how well your asthma is being controlled by using your peak flow meter.