Asthma: A Year in Review


Smoking teens, rogue genes, and mashed-up hookworms are among the many diverse, fascinating, and important asthma topics that came out of 2016.

As the calendar creeps towards 2017, it's time to reflect on all that has been learned in medicine over the past 12 months. The focus today is asthma, an affliction thats prevalence seems to grow right alongside mankind's wealth of knowledge about what causes it and how it can be treated.

The year brought a welcome glut of asthma news, from promising new treatments to alarming new trends and downright bizarre observations. Smoking teens, rogue genes, and mashed-up hookworms are among the many diverse, fascinating, and important developments from 2016. Read on for the full collection, and keep in tune with asthma drug approvals, studies, and findings in the asthma condition center.


Healthcare Employees Have the Highest Rates of It

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detailed the occupations with the highest instances of asthma, and the information hit close to home for those in the healthcare profession: at a rate of 10.7%, the industry has the highest incidence of asthma. The data came from over 200,000 respondents in almost two dozen states. Following the healthcare industry somewhat distantly were education at 9.1% and arts, entertainment, and recreation at 9.0%. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the industries at the bottom of the list were manufacturing (6.1%), mining, oil and gas (6.0%), and construction (5.9%).

Read the full story here.


Teens Who Have It are Twice as Likely to Smoke

Smoking is bad for everyone’s lungs – but it’s especially bad for people with asthma. So you would think that someone with the lung condition would steer clear of activities which can trigger an attack. However, a new study found that teens are even more likely to smoke cigarettes if they have asthma.

The most common reason that any of the teens started smoking was “curiosity.” “Despite their knowledge that smoking is bad for their health, the adolescents with asthma didn’t consider smoking to be a problem,” the researchers explained.

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A “Game-Changing” Treatment May Be on the Way for It

"I felt like a completely different person. I had more get up and go, I was less wheezy and for the first time in years I felt really, really well,” a 54-year-old Englishwoman named Gaye Stokes said of fevipiprant. A study of its efficacy was surprising: its primary metric was sputum eosinophil count, a measurement of the white blood cells related to asthmatic inflammation. Moderate-to-severe asthmatics typically hover around 5%, with non-asthmatics under 1%. After the study, the average participant in the fevipiprant group saw a reduction from 5.4% to about 1.1%.

Read the full story here.


Mashed-up Hookworms Might Also Be a Treatment For It

Well, almost. Researchers at Australia’s James Cook University pinpointed an anti-inflammatory protein secreted by hookworms as potentially capable of muting asthma and suppressing human allergic reaction to dust mite allergies. While the treatment is more focused on the specific protein than the worms, they did initially find it by freezing a bunch of hookworms and mashing them into a “soup.”


Read the full story here.

Obesity Makes It Worse in Girls Than in Boys

A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics demonstrated significant relationships between overweight or obesity status in girls and increased asthma prevalence, history of asthma, and current. None of these associations were found in boys, and overweight or obese girls also showed significantly increased odds of asthma attacks and exercise-related wheezing (while boys did not).

This was just one of a few studies that found that female gender emphasized the interaction between obesity and asthma.

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The Amish May Be Less Predisposed To It


According to study co-author Carole Ober, "the source of protection is not simply farming.” In blood samples that compared the Amish with Hutterites, another traditional agrarian group, the Amish children had markedly more neutrophils and fewer eosinophils, the former being blood cells that fight infections, the latter being blood cells that cause allergic inflammation. Though “you can’t put a cow in every family’s house,” the Amish children displayed asthma at dramatically lower rates than the Hutterites and the general population.

Read the full story here.


You Might be More Likely to Have It if Your Dad Smoked...Even if He Quit Before He Met Your Mom.

While prenatal smoking among mothers is widely known to be terrible for the child, a study found that pre-prenatal smoking in the father might have an impact as well. “Smoking is known to cause genetic and epigenetic damage to spermatozoa, which are transmissible to offspring and have the potential to induce developmental abnormalities,” explains Cecilie Svanes, an author on the study. The duration between quit time (in those who had) and conception surprisingly showed no correlation with the likelihood, nor did the mother’s potential preconception smoking habits. A similar trend was also seen if the fathers were welders.

Read the full story here.


Poverty Is Still An Independent Risk Factor For It

“We found that patients who have asthma and come from lower income households – making less than $50,000 every year – are one and a half times more likely to see treatment fail; they are also almost twice as likely to have an asthma exacerbation” said Juan Carlos Cardet of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Boston, Massachusetts. The team identified lower income as a risk factor independent of race, indicated stress level, or level of education.

Read the full story here.


For Children Who Have It, Tylenol Might Not Be Any Worse Than Motrin

Though previous research had concluded that acetaminophen (Tylenol) worsens disease activity in children with asthma, but a collaborative study from Boston Children’s and Blood Institute’s Asthma Network disputes that. Working with a cohort of 300 children with mild persistent asthma ages 1 to 5, the researchers randomly assigned the families to give the children either acetaminophen or ibuprofen in the case of pain or fever. The results showed little difference: out of those taking acetaminophen, 49% experienced at least one asthma exacerbation and 21% experienced at least two, compared to 47% and 24% for the ibuprofen group.

Read the full story here.


It Might Be Caused By a "Rogue Gene" Named Adam

University of Southampton researchers believe a gene called ADAM33 is responsible for creating an enzyme that may cause airway remodeling and allergen sensitivity integral to the early development of asthma. When that enzyme detaches from cell surfaces in airway muscles, it can “go rogue,” causing the breathing difficulties associated with the condition. Professor Hans Michel Haitchi, the leader of the study, considers it a total realignment of our understanding about asthma’s origins. "For years we have thought that airway remodeling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction,” Haitchi says, “but our research tells us otherwise."

Read the full story here.

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Elizabeth Cerceo, MD | Credit: ACP
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