A Guide to Asthma and Clinical Trials
Asthma is a medical condition in which a person’s airways narrow, swell, and sometimes produce excess mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing and shortness of breath.
Currently, the World Health Organization estimates that asthma affects at least 262 million people. For some, the condition is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be significant and interfere with daily activities.
Although asthma cannot be cured, its symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment. Some patients do require ongoing treatment to prevent serious asthma attacks.
The Different Kinds of Asthma
Allergic (or atopic) asthma is triggered by allergens such as pet dander, pollen, and dust mites. Typically, patients with this type of asthma are encouraged to avoid known environmental triggers. They may also need to use an inhaler daily to help control their symptoms.
1. ‘Seasonal’ Asthma
Some asthma patients have flare-ups at specific times of the year, such as during the spring or fall, when certain allergens are present. Although seasonal allergic asthma is a long-term condition, these patients may be symptom-free for months at a time.
2. Occupational Asthma
Occupational asthma is a kind of allergic asthma caused by the patient’s work (or their working environment). It typically appears in adulthood, and the symptoms may improve when the patient is not exposed to the triggers.
Non-allergic or non-atopic asthma is not related to any allergy triggers and is less common. Research indicates it only affects between 10% and 33% of all people with asthma.
The causes of non-allergic asthma are not well understood, but we do know that it often develops later in life and can be more serious than allergic asthma.
1. ‘Exercise-Induced’ Asthma
This non-allergic asthma is triggered solely by physical activity. Many professionals refer to it as “exercise-induced bronchoconstriction” (EIB) because the patient’s airways tighten and narrow. It’s typically seen in elite athletes or those performing strenuous activities in very cold conditions.
2. Difficult Asthma
Patients with difficult asthma may find it challenging to treat with medicines and other solutions. Difficult asthma can be caused by other health issues, leading to frequent asthma attacks. Most with this kind of asthma will need to use reliever inhalers at least three times a week.
3. Severe Asthma
More than 25 million people in the United States live with asthma, but only 5 to 10% have severe asthma. The condition is typically labeled as “severe” if the patient has more than two asthma attacks in a year and has ongoing symptoms even while using preventer tablets or steroids.
Severe, uncontrolled asthma can limit patients’ activities and affect them on a daily basis. These patients will likely need to be on intense asthma treatment plans, as well as medications.
The Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person, which can make it challenging to identify right away. Most often, it is characterized by:
- Coughing attacks
- Chest tightness or pain
- Shortness of breath
For some people, these asthma symptoms may only flare up in certain situations, such as after a respiratory virus or during exercise. If you or your loved one experiences these symptoms on an ongoing basis, seek an opinion from a doctor.
What Causes Asthma?
It’s not entirely clear why some people develop asthma while others don’t. Experts believe the condition is likely caused by a combination of both environmental and genetic factors.
Environmental asthma triggers can include:
- Air pollutants and irritants
- Respiratory infections
- Airborne allergens (mold spores, pollen, pet dander, etc.)
- Exercise (especially in cold weather)
- Sulfites and preservatives in some foods/beverages
- Some medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, beta-blockers, and more)
Anyone who believes they have allergic asthma should remove themselves from triggering environments and seek treatment from a healthcare professional.
What Is an Asthma Attack?
An asthma “attack” is an episode of increased, serious asthma symptoms. During an attack, the lining of the lung’s airways swells, causing the surrounding muscles to tighten and narrowing the airways.
These changes block the flow of air, making it difficult to breathe. The attack may be mild or severe, depending on the circumstances. Some attacks slowly build while others are triggered suddenly.
Severe asthma symptoms require immediate medical care. You should contact a doctor if your or another person is experiencing:
- Extreme shortness of breath
- A bluish tint to the lips
- Serious tightness in the chest
- Breathlessness even when lying down
- Feelings of agitation or confusion
What to Do During an Asthma Attack
Proactive treatment is the best solution for asthma attacks. Anyone with diagnosed asthma will likely have an “action plan” created with the help of their doctor. When an attack occurs, they can utilize this plan to get their symptoms back under control.
Other helpful tips for handling an asthma attack include:
- Staying calm and try to relax your breathing.
- Take quick-relief medications (as prescribed).
- Using a relief inhaler.
- Getting help from someone nearby.
Who Can Get Asthma?
Anyone can develop asthma at any age. Some patients begin exhibiting symptoms as early as infancy, and while these people may experience “fewer” symptoms as an adult, the condition never truly goes away.
Many factors can increase your chance of developing asthma, including:
- Smoking or frequent exposure to secondhand smoke
- Being overweight
- Having family members with asthma
- Working in polluted environments with poor air quality
People’s risk of developing asthma also goes up after experiencing an illness. Up to 75% of people with asthma say their symptoms worsen when they have a cold or the flu, and many others report wheezing or chest tightness even after they are over the illness.
The best way to prevent asthma from becoming a more serious condition is to identify and stay away from the worst triggers, such as allergens or certain weather conditions. You may also want to learn about your family’s history to understand the extent of your risk and how to minimize it.
Match With Asthma Clinical Trials
Have you been diagnosed with asthma? You may qualify for a trial in your area. Tandem Clinical will match you with:
- Cutting-edge treatments
- The latest clinical studies
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
Medical professionals have a few ways of determining lung capabilities and the presence of asthma. They may perform diagnostic tests such as:
This is typically the first asthma test doctors will use in patients over the age of 5. To determine how well a person’s lungs are working (or their pulmonary function), the doctor will have them take a deep breath and forcefully breathe out into a tube connected to a spirometer.
The spirometer will record the volume of the exhaled air and its speed. This helps the doctor determine if the patient’s pulmonary function is normal for a person their age.
After taking the lung test measurements, the doctor may ask the patient to inhale an asthma drug to open air passages, then perform the spirometry test again. This can help the doctor learn if asthma drugs would be beneficial for the patient’s treatment plan.
If the patient’s spirometer test results are normal but they still have asthma-like symptoms, the doctor may ask them to inhale a substance that causes their lung’s airways to narrow. The doctor may also challenge the patient to run or walk to rule out the possibility of exercise-induced asthma.
After inhaling the substance or performing physical activity, the patient will retake the spirometry test. If the results are still normal, then the patient likely does not have asthma.
Exhaled Nitric Oxide Test
In this kind of test, the patient breathes into a tube connected to a machine. This machine measures the amount of nitric oxide gas in their breath. If the levels are high, it can be a sign of inflamed airways caused by asthma.
The doctor may perform allergy tests by drawing blood or applying patches to the patient’s skin. These allergy tests do not diagnose asthma, specifically, but they can help determine if the patient is prone to allergic reactions that can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Can You Do Anything to Prevent Asthma?
Asthma is not a preventable condition, but with the help of medical professionals, you can manage the symptoms and help prevent severe attacks. Most likely, your doctor will recommend:
- Creating and following an asthma action plan.
- Identifying and controlling your asthma triggers.
- Using an inhaler regularly or as needed.
- Taking preventative medications.
- Getting vaccinated against illnesses like influenza and pneumonia.
- Learning to recognize warning signs of an attack (like shortness of breath).
- Stopping or limiting activities that spark asthma attacks.
Although there is currently no cure for asthma, proper treatment can help control the symptoms and allow patients to live normal lives. Most doctors will build an action plan that involves one or more of the following treatment options.
Asthma Clinical Trials
Suppose you have been diagnosed with asthma through one of the tests mentioned above. In that case, you might be eligible to participate in clinical studies and help researchers obtain valuable information on the condition.
Scientists are currently studying many aspects of asthma and its symptoms. This includes the disease-specific research on:
- How asthma develops and progresses
- New treatments for asthma and related conditions
- How genes and environmental factors trigger breathing difficulties
These asthma clinical trials are conducted in reputable hospitals, universities, and research centers. If you’re interested in participating for your benefit and the future benefit of others, reach out to learn more.
Match with Asthma Clinical Trials
At Tandem Clinical Research, we connect asthma patients with clinical trials for biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies. If you live in the areas around New Orleans, New York City, or Orlando, we’ll connect you with trials nearby.
Asthma might be a life-long condition, but that doesn’t mean scientists have stopped researching treatments. Consider joining an asthma clinical trial to contribute to their study of the condition and its solutions.