Asthma is a serious condition affecting millions of people. Its rapid rise among all developed countries is cause for deep concern. In response to this alarming trend, researchers are working diligently to find more effective treatments for those already diagnosed with the disease, and possibly a cure to stop its progression.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Asthma is a chronic lung disorder of enormous public health importance that affects 10 to 12 percent of the population; it disproportionately affects children, minorities, and persons of lower socioeconomic status.” Asthma is the leading cause of school absences and the most common cause for childhood emergency room visits. The economic cost of asthma surpasses 12 billion dollars annually.
Despite an increase in our understanding of the progression of the disease, the effects of allergy triggers on the body and the way our bodies react to them, and the great strides in diagnosing and treating asthma, the number of people diagnosed, sick or that have died from the disease continues to rise.
Our lungs are filled with hollow tube like passages that resemble the branches on a tree. These passages gradually become smaller and smaller ending in tiny pockets where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. For those with asthma, swelling in the hollow tubes that fill the lungs makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable. This inflammation causes an increased sensitivity to allergens and a host of other asthma triggers like exercise, medications, stress, pollution, humidity and even laughter.
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person; early morning or late night coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, fatigue, anxiety and shortness of breath are all common. Allergen induced asthma usually becomes apparent before the age of 35. Non-allergic asthma usually has its onset in middle age and can be triggered or worsened by reflux disease, exercise, weather changes and illness.
Research is underway in several key directions, and on a global scale, to find more effective treatments and possibly even a cure for asthma. Secondary intervention studies, risk assessment, environmental intervention and assessing allergen exposures all allow researchers to explore different treatment options to deal with the symptoms of those who already have asthma. Studying the genetics and hereditary components of the disease, and the pathogenesis and mechanics, may someday lead to a cure.
Research progress is dependant on funding, and the participation of those who have or are at risk of developing asthma either through lifestyle or genetics. Funding for research comes from many sources: private companies and foundations, private citizens, corporate donations and government grants but money is often scarce; and with so many important and deserving projects, the competition for gaining the needed funding can be fierce.
Great strides have been made in the area of asthma, but the steady rise in new cases suggests that greater strides are necessary. Researchers all over the world are working hard to develop new treatment modalities and possibly even a cure for this chronic and often debilitating disease.