Antifungal drug could improve asthma treatment
ANTIFUNGAL drugs could be the key to improving the lives of thousands of asthmatics, scientists claimed yesterday.
Previously, severe asthma attacks have been blamed on air pollutants such as dust mites, pollen or animal hair.
But researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered that the condition can be triggered by an allergic reaction to types of fungi - such as mould, damp and dead leaves.
They are now testing a drug which could cut sufferers' reliance on steroids and prevent the sort of serious attacks that lead to hospital treatment or even death.
The antifungal drug could help about 400,000 adults who suffer from severe asthma and are shown to be allergic to at least one type of airborne fungus.
Altogether there are five million asthmatics in Britain but many are mild or triggered by something other than fungi. Children with asthma are treated differently because they may grow out of allergies. About 1,000 people in Britain die from asthma every year.
The scientists, based at Manchester's Wythenshawe Hospital, concentrated on asthma triggered by tiny spores of common airborne fungi, which outnumber pollen grains by almost 1,000 to one and are invisible to the naked eye.
Although most people do not have a reaction to them, when severe asthmatics inhale the spores their airways are thought to narrow, making it harder to breathe.
In initial trials, use of anti-fungal drugs was found to reduce the incidence of hospitalisation by 75 per cent.
Scientists are now starting a trial of the drug, itraconazole, with 100 asthmatics.
The drug would not provide a cure for all asthmatics but it could lessen attacks and therefore save thousands of lives over time.
Volunteers for the clinical trial will be screened and, if their test results show an allergy to one or more fungi, they will be given itraconazole capsules or dummy ones for eight months.
Dr Robert Niven, the lead trial investigator, from the North West Lung Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital, said: "We have few options for patients with severe asthma other than prescribing more steroids, and those we do have can have side effects worse than steroids themselves.
"Antifungal treatment for those sensitised to fungi may be a useful additional strategy to improve the breathing and overall health of these patients.
"Certainly our limited treatment experience with itraconazole suggests fewer admissions to hospital for asthma and reduced numbers of steroid courses."
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