Want To Know More About Your Asthma? Spit!

Okay, maybe not quite yet, but recent research indicates that the possibility of this is getting closer. We’ve discussed asthma phenotypes here on Asthma.Net (John referred to them as subgroups which is essentially what phenotypes are), but what if you were able to learn more about your asthma by simply spitting in a tube? And even though I am this close to doing the same for Ancestry.com, I certainly would not object to doing so for my health.

Research indicates that by analyzing a test tube of a person’s saliva, we can—or at least can soon—diagnose asthma and learn more about the type of asthma that a person has.1 A test as simple as providing a sample of spit can help determine disease severity as well as help create a “map” for determining probable disease progression1. While not yet valid for clinical use, researchers were able to cross-validate the results of this test 97% of the time, and patterns were recognizable to technicians in 80% of samples—this, to me, means the test is reproducible so that clinicians should be able to get similarly accurate results each time the test is administered1. Metabolic biomarkers are found in the saliva samples produced by the patient—which means a change in the body chemistry caused by a disease (in this case).2,3

For testing for asthma, saliva samples are attractive for a lot of reasons. Since asthma is often developed in childhood, saliva sampling avoids need for more “distressing” tests1, such as blood draws, urine samples or sputum samples.1 These tests are often unpleasant for adults who may not wish to participate in these types of tests, especially not electively, but for children, these typical methods of medical testing may not only be unpleasant but also difficult or uncomfortable.1 Saliva samples are simple to collect, completely painless, and completely non-invasive.1 For even the youngest children, saliva can be collected passively1 —no, you can’t get an infant to spit on command, but chances are you’re wiping up a lot off a baby’s face anyways!

Now, yes, I realize that I have said that this test is not yet available for clinical use, and further research is needed.1 However, there is good news. Saliva biomarker testing is already in use for exercise testing and determining the body’s response to physiological stress brought on through physical exertion.1 Saliva markers of cortisol, a stress hormone, are measured and compared to a person’s rating of perceived exertion (how hard they think they are exerting themselves through exercise).4 I can see, potentially, this being applied to see if a person may be an over-perceived or under-perceiver of asthma symptoms—just for one potential application!

Once further development has concluded regarding the use of saliva in respiratory medicine for asthma, we might not only see saliva tests used to diagnose asthma or to help determine what may happen for a patient in the future, but also for ongoing monitoring of asthma.1 Just imagine walking into your asthma doctor’s office and being asked to spit in a tube before your regular pulmonary function tests! Pretty cool. (Well, at least to me!)

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