The Nasal Brush Test: A New Way to Diagnose Mild to Moderate Asthma

Mild to moderate asthma can be hard to diagnose sometimes. This is because symptoms often change over time and may be affected by other respiratory conditions. And if we're talking about children, kids can be poor historians. I know I wasn't diagnosed with asthma as a child, although looking back, I can see I definitely had hallmark symptoms. Currently, doctors are struggling to definitely diagnose my grandson, despite the fact that he has some of those same symptoms I had as a child.

One problem is that some asthma symptoms are often similar to those from other respiratory conditions, such as:

Of course, when asthma is more severe or persistent, the diagnosis becomes easier for the doctor to make. But how can doctors be sure what is in play when asthma is milder and/or more intermittent?

A New Test Offers Hope for Better Diagnosing

But Mt. Sinai Hospital researchers announced in June 2018 that they have found a new biomarker for asthma. And even better, this biomarker can be tested for with a simple nasal swab and follow-up analysis. Clinical and computational scientists in the Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences, the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, and the Department of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai worked together on this project.

Traditionally, pulmonary function testing has been used for a definitive diagnosis of asthma, along with a health history. Unfortunately, the equipment needed for this testing is not always readily available in the doctors' offices where asthma is usually diagnosed. Also, pulmonary function testing alone cannot always distinguish whether poor pulmonary function is due to asthma or some other condition.

Biomarker testing is also being used in the diagnosis and in identifying prognosis with other illnesses, such as breast cancer. This knowledge is what led the Mt. Sinai team to look for a biomarker for asthma.

The nasal brush test developed by the Mt. Sinai team is minimally invasive and easier to administer than pulmonary function testing. It appears to offer real hope for earlier and more accurate diagnosis of asthma.

What's Next

Asthma affects 10% of the population in the U.S. When asthma is not diagnosed quickly, it can have a negative effect on quality of life and ability to be active. It can even lead to hospitalizations and serious health consequences. The Mt. Sinai research team emphasized that further study with a larger group of patients will be required to fully validate their findings. When that is done, the nasal brush test will hopefully be brought into standard clinical practice.

I think this research and new procedure offers real hope for the future of asthma. When the diagnosis is made sooner and more accurately, kids and adults too will receive the care they so desperately need. And that will lead to better, more positive health outcomes. I hope to see the nasal swab test for asthma become an accepted tool for health professionals everywhere within the near future.


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