Asthma is a leading cause of childhood hospitalizations and missed school days in the United States. During an asthma attack, also called an asthma exacerbation, the airways become inflamed, constricted, and produce extra mucus, making it difficult to breathe. Severe attacks require corticosteroid intervention or hospitalization.
Now, though, a more effective treatment may be on the horizon for young chronic asthma sufferers, based on clinical trial findings that identified a targeted therapy to reduce severe asthma flare-ups. UT Southwestern researchers collaborated with nine other top research institutions on the study, which found that an injection of the drug omalizumab every two to four weeks during a specific period in the fall reduced the risk of an asthma exacerbation by more than 80 percent. The therapy began four to six weeks before the school year started and ended 90 days afterward. Children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 who had allergic asthma were enrolled in the trial, which took place from 2012 to 2014. Omalizumab is already approved for treatment of moderate to severe allergic asthma in patients ages 12 and up. Asthma is commonly treated with rescue medications along with inhaled corticosteroids for those with persistent disease.
“The findings from this study open the door for a targeted, effective treatment approach for some of our most vulnerable asthma patients,” says UT Southwestern allergist/ immunologist Rebecca Gruchalla, M.D., Ph.D., who coauthored the study with UTSW colleague Michelle Gill, M.D., Ph.D. “It is especially important that we have determined a way to reduce and possibly eliminate the exacerbations that occur during the fall season, known as the ‘September Asthma Epidemic.’ ”