New research from Kings College London suggests that during asthma attacks, cells lining the airways undergo significant damage, potentially leading to long-term harm. Published in the journal Science, the study proposes that targeting this source of damage with preventive drugs could interrupt the harmful cycle associated with asthma.

People with asthma experience airway sensitivity triggered by various factors like pollen, pets, and exercise, leading to inflammation and swelling, resulting in symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness. While existing medications can alleviate inflammation and keep airways open, repeated attacks can result in permanent scarring and narrowing.

The study, conducted by the Kings College London team using both mouse models and human lung tissue samples, focused on understanding the process of bronchoconstriction, where the smooth muscle surrounding the airways constricts during an asthma attack. Lead researcher Prof Jody Rosenblatt explained that this bronchoconstriction damages the airway lining, triggering long-term inflammation, impaired wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infections, perpetuating a cycle of harm.

Prof Rosenblatt highlighted that the damage to the epithelial lining, crucial for defending against infections, had been previously overlooked. She emphasized the continuous cycle of injury occurring during asthma attacks and suggested that blocking this damage could potentially prevent attacks altogether.

One potential preventive treatment explored by the researchers is gadolinium, which has shown promise in mice. However, further research is required to determine its safety and efficacy in humans, a process that may take years.

Dr Samantha Walker, research and innovation director at Asthma and Lung UK, welcomed the findings, stating that they open doors to exploring new treatment options for asthma sufferers. Stressing the importance of continued use of prescribed medications, she emphasized the need for research to develop treatments addressing the root causes of asthma, especially for individuals for whom current medications are ineffective.

In the UK, where over five million people have asthma, proper management involves using preventer and reliever inhalers. Individuals experiencing severe attacks should seek immediate medical assistance, particularly if their reliever inhaler is ineffective or if the attack persists for four hours or more.