The NIH News in Health
skip navigation
Health Capsules
June 2005
Possible Treatment Changes for Asthma

Some adults with mild persistent asthma may be able to control their asthma by taking corticosteroids only when needed, according to a new study supported by NIH. Those who took corticosteroids when their symptoms arose had about the same number of severe asthma flare-ups as those taking daily, long-term control medications. This finding needs to be confirmed in a larger study, but it suggests that some patients may be able to safely avoid the expense and inconvenience of daily medication.

More than 20 million Americans have asthma. Mild persistent asthma brings symptoms like wheezing, coughing, or chest tightness more than twice a week but not daily, or wakes you up more than two nights a month. National treatment guidelines recommend daily long-term control medication to prevent symptoms, along with quick-relief medication (inhaled bronchodilator) as needed to treat acute symptoms.

For this study, the researchers put 255 adult patients into three treatment groups. Two groups took asthma control medication twice a day—either an inhaled corticosteroid or another type of asthma medication in pill form. The third received a placebo (inactive) medication. All were given additional medicines with clear instructions on how to use them to treat symptoms if they appeared.

After one year, the three groups were similar in measurements of lung air flow, the number of severe asthma attacks, and quality-of-life tests. Those in the daily inhaled steroid group, however, did have significantly more symptom-free days than those in the other two treatment groups.

An expert panel will soon consider whether to change treatment recommendations for adults with mild persistent asthma. For those with more frequent symptoms or more severe asthma, these new findings don’t apply. If you have asthma, however severe, work with your health care provider to develop and follow an asthma treatment plan.

Definitions iconDefinitions
Bronchodilator :
Inhaled medicine used to relieve symptoms during an asthma attack.

Corticosteroid :
Medicine used to help prevent symptoms of asthma. Some are inhaled, some are taken orally.

  Red Hair Blues    

Some doctors have claimed that people with naturally red hair may need more anesthetic than others. It turns out they may be right.

Dr. Daniel Sessler of the University of Louisville School of Medicine decided it was time to put the issue to the test. His research group, with funds from NIH, recruited 10 women with naturally bright red hair and an equal number with black or dark brown hair.

Researchers gave the women an inhaled anesthetic, then applied a harmless shock to each woman’s thigh and watched for movement. They adjusted each woman’s dose until she had a reflex movement half the time, a standard method for finding the right dose of an anesthetic. Nearly all of the red-haired women needed 20 percent more anesthetic than those with dark hair.

Just about all people with red hair share a common genetic variation that affects hair and skin color. After analyzing DNA from the women, the researchers identified this variation in 90 percent of the red-haired women who needed more anesthetic.

While these findings don’t directly link hair color genes to anesthetic response, they do suggest that health care providers should monitor anesthetic doses carefully in redheads. The research also opens the door to further study into the genetics of anesthetic response.

Definitions iconDefinitions
Anesthetic :
Pain-killing medicine that causes a loss of sensation and sometimes loss of consciousness while preserving vital functions like breathing during medical procedures or surgery.

Featured Web Site iconFeatured Web Site
Genetics Home Reference :
Your guide to understanding genetic conditions. Find out how genes work and how changes in certain genes can cause disease. You can also learn about genetic testing, gene therapy, and the Human Genome Project. From NIH’s National Library of Medicine.
to top    
NIH logo National Institutes of Health (NIH)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
DHHS logo Department of Health and
Human Services
  Office of Communications and
Public Liaison