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Colds often cause life-threatening asthma attacks in asthma sufferers throughout the year, but as we get closer to the winter season when colds increase in numbers and everyone seems to be carrying a packet of tissues and a packet of Strepsils with them, scientists have discovered why a simple common cold can often leave asthma sufferers helpless with an attack.
A British research team have shown that asthmatics tend to make more of an immune system chemical when they have a cold, which sends the immune system itself into overdrive.
Imperial College London and Kings College London have collaborated on the research, which aims to create drugs that can control the distressing and potentially deadly attacks.
Asthma UK funded the research and Doctor Samantha Walker stated; “Asthma still remains a relative mystery and the millions of people with asthma need more studies like this to bring us one step closer to new treatments.”
Over 5 million British people suffer from asthma – one in every 11 children and one in every 12 adults. When so many people have the condition, it’s important that research and treatment goes into helping patients when they suffer attacks caused by a common cold – something other people find so simple.
The scientists found that asthmatics tend to have more of an immune chemical called IL-25 than other people without the condition. Having higher levels of IL-25 tends to release other damaging chemicals which have been found to trigger severe asthma attacks in patients.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr Nathan Bartlett said: “Our research has shown for the first time that the cells which 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 which causes attacks. By targeting this molecule at the top of the cascade, we could potentially discover a much-needed new treatment to control this.”
Dr Bartlett’s co-lead study author, Professor Sebastian Johnston, who works at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College said, “Existing medication containing inhaled steroids are highly effective at controlling regular asthma symptoms, but during an attack the symptoms worsen and can lead to the patient going to hospital. This new study provides exciting results about potential ways to address this big medical need.”