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Intensity of asthma symptoms ‘affected by genes and traffic pollution’




Do you have asthma and live near a busy road? If so, you may be one of those whose genetic profile means you are more susceptible to severe asthma symptoms exacerbated by traffic pollution…

Around 26 million people in the US suffer from asthma, the equivalent to one in 13 Americans, but new research may provide greater insight into how to manage asthma symptoms and prevent attacks. The study by researchers at the National Institutes of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS) and other experts concluded asthma patients with a particular genetic profile experience worse asthma symptoms when exposed to traffic pollution than those without.

Human genes are made up of DNA, which is comprised of four base pairs. In some people, one of these base pairs is slightly changed, a genetic variation called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP). In the latest study, researchers examined four SNPs affecting the body’s inflammatory responses with the goal of learning whether different combinations, coupled with exposure to pollution, could exacerbate symptoms in patients with asthma. 

Participants in the study were divided into “hyper-responders”, who were very sensitive to pollution, “hypo-responders”, who were relatively insensitive, and those who fell somewhere in between. They were also divided according to whether they lived within 275 yards of a major road. 

What does the latest asthma research reveal?  

Asthma sufferers categorized as hyper-responders who lived close to major roads had the worst asthma symptoms. These included difficulties in breathing, chest pain, coughing, and wheezing. Those who lived further from major sources of traffic pollution and who fell into the hypo-responder category experienced the least severe symptoms of asthma. 

What does this mean for asthma sufferers? 

Researchers involved in the study suggested the results could lead to improvements in precision medical treatment for asthma. Precision medicine looks at how to prevent and treat diseases by examining factors specific to each patient. 

Janet Hall, MD, clinical director at the NIEHS, explained that research such as this will enable more targeted and personal approaches to disease prevention, aiding physicians and healthcare professionals to offer patients treatment plans tailored to their individual need. Furthermore, she suggested this could lead to lower healthcare costs as treatment and disease prevention measures become more efficient.

“Based on this research, we could propose that hyper-responders, who are exposed to traffic pollution, receive air purification intervention, such as HEPA filters, for their home,” said NIEHS researcher and lung disease expert Stavros Garantziotis, MD.

What can you do to reduce asthma symptoms?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease, but by following a good asthma management plan you can alleviate symptoms and reduce the impact on your life. Understanding what causes your asthma to flare up can help you avoid asthma triggers, which include animal dander, dust mites, pollen during allergy season, cold air, and tobacco smoke.

Adhering to any medication or asthma treatment plans discussed with your doctor will also help keep your condition under control. A variety of different asthma medicines and inhalers are available, with different purposes and mechanisms of action.

Quick-relief asthma medications, for example, bronchodilators like ProAir HFA (albuterol) or Xopenex HFA (levalbuterol), provide temporary relief from asthma symptoms. Long-term controller medication is also used to help many patients with asthma. 

Inhaled corticosteroids, for instance, Flovent HFA (fluticasone) or Pulmicort (budesonide) asthma inhalers, are often prescribed as part of a long-term asthma management plan to reduce inflammation and prevent narrowing of the respiratory tract. Other drugs often used to treat asthma include long-acting beta-agonists and methylxanthines, which are used to open the airways. 

If you struggle to manage asthma, speak to an allergist, immunologist or your physician for help identifying your asthma triggers, managing your medication, and reducing the impact of your condition on your day-to-day life.