New Asthma Research 

As patients, sometimes it can feel like medicine moves too slow. We depend on new treatments, better medications and superior understandings to manage chronic conditions, like asthma. Although it can feel stagnant in the present, we have learned a lot over the years as systems are refined and discoveries are made. With every door opened and lesson learned, another web of options are presented.

Two very prominent things happened in the world of asthma this year. A new respiratory virus and a new discovery of a cause of asthma. Let’s start with the bad and end with the good. Allow me to share some new research from this year.

The new bad: COVID-19 research & asthma

It’s rare to be a human on earth and not be affected by COVID-19 in some way. Whether it’s fear of the virus, experiencing the virus or trying to adapt to a pandemic-land; it’s everywhere. People with asthma often have difficulty managing any type of respiratory virus and this one is particularly nasty. As an asthmatic, I’ve had a serious question. How bad is COVID-19 with asthma?

Researchers were quick to answer that question, as best they can, in a short time. A group of researchers in Italy found that COVID-19 patients with asthma were rare. However, the patients with COVID-19 and asthma as a comorbidity showed a higher risk for a severe COVID-19 case.1 This may be explained by people with asthma already being pre-cautious about contracting a respiratory illness, making them a minority of COVID-19 patients. Yet, affected strongly by the respiratory virus because of their complication with asthma.

Social research and asthma

As an anthropologist, I’m interested in the societal determinants of our health. So, I was curious about what socioeconomic factors have been identified for COVID-19 patients. A group of researchers with a shared interest determined that:2

“Differences in socioeconomic status and the effects of institutional racism, but not health behaviors, sources of information, or attitudes, are playing a role in disparities seen for patients with asthma during COVID-19.”

This conclusion was found by a series of factors that highlighted some minority populations to experience less control over asthma with COVID-19. This was due to environmental factors associated with social and economic determinants of both contracting COVID-19 and managing asthma symptoms. A fascinating article that further highlighted the need to address societal determinants of health within our communities.

The new good

It’s not all doom and gloom in the world of contemporary asthma research! Even the melancholy findings associated with COVID-19 have led to possible solutions to better help people with respiratory disease in a severe pandemic. That’s not the only good news though.

This year, a breakthrough has been made in understanding the pathophysiology of asthma. Previously thought-to-be unassociated compounds, ‘caspase-1’ and ‘caspase-11’ were inducing inflammatory cell death in a process termed pyroptosis.3 Then, human mirrors of the same compounds, ‘caspase-4’ and ‘capsize-5', were observed with similar behavior in humans.3

If we think of the world of managing asthma as a vast ocean, this is like seeing a beacon of light, then finding an island. We still don’t have a full map, but it just became a little more detailed with a new point of reference. It’s developing the map that makes asthma management easier to navigate. Though, as far as a cure, we still don’t know what direction it lies.

Asthma in 2020

It has been an interesting year. The world of asthma research has been no less eventful. With a global pandemic of a respiratory virus, asthma association with COVID-19 has been a hot topic of research. Some of this research revealed further evidence that socioeconomic disparities of health need to be addressed. Also, with a new hub found in the maze of asthma pathophysiology, we may see new philosophies of management emerging for allergic airway inflammation and asthma. I look forward to future research and the surprises it's guaranteed to hold.

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