Simple test can predict asthma attacks in children and help make sure they receive the right amount of medication

  • The UK has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the world
  • The condition affects 1.1 million UK children – or one in 11  
  • The urine test measures levels of inflammation that warns of attack
  • Research was carried out by Queen Mary Hospital London 
  • It is due to be presented to the British Thoracic Society  

A simple test could help ensure asthmatic children get the right amount of medication to help prevent future asthma attacks.

The test can accurately measure levels of inflammation within the urine that give warning signs of an imminent attack.

Research led by Queen Mary University of London could result in a ‘transformational’ step to preventing worsening symptoms, hospital admissions and deaths.

The research led by Queen Mary University could help prevent worsening symptoms, hospital admissions and deaths. (file picture)

The research led by Queen Mary University could help prevent worsening symptoms, hospital admissions and deaths. (file picture)

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma symptoms in the world, affecting 1.1 million children.

One in 11 British children in the UK has asthma, the most common long term condition in childhood.

Researchers reviewed 73 children aged 7-15 years to investigate the most efficient and non-invasive way of finding the optimum level of anti-inflammatory treatment for asthma.

They analysed levels of prostaglandin metabolites – chemicals released by immune cells that are activated in asthma – in the urine.

One of the ‘protective’ prostaglandins was greatly reduced in those children who went on to have an asthma attack within three months, giving an early warning of a worsening condition.

Testing was carried out among children with asthma on days when they had no symptoms, and the researchers counted the number of days when they received medical attention or missed school due to asthma symptoms.

These urine samples were compared with those of children who did not have asthma.

The findings by the QML researchers, in partnership with Jagiellonian University Medical School in Krakow, Poland, are being presented today (thurs) at The British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting (must credit) in London.

Dr Rossa Brugha, co-author of the report and Clinical Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London hospital, said ‘The key factor in treating children with asthma is to tailor their medicine accurately, ensuring the right amount of anti-inflammatory medication is being prescribed.

‘This simple urine test provides an accurate way to assess chemical markers in the child’s urine, which show the level of inflammation caused by the asthma.

‘When children see their GP for their annual review, we hope that this test can help indicate the level of steroid medication they actually need.

Dr Samantha Walker from Asthma UK said the research was 'promising'

Dr Samantha Walker from Asthma UK said the research was ‘promising’

‘If implemented it will help the child to manage their asthma more effectively and hopefully reduce the number of asthma attacks.’

Dr Bernard Higgins, Chairman of the British Thoracic Society Executive Committee, and consultant lung specialist at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle said ‘GPs manage a large number of children with asthma throughout the UK – and this simple test could help them to prescribe tailored treatment.

‘Most of all this is good news for the well-being of our children with asthma, but attacks of asthma are expensive to treat and if this helps us prevent them it could also save vital NHS resources.’

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.

When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways, the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten and become narrower, and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell, causing difficulty in breathing and other symptoms..

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, said ‘Asthma is a complex condition that affects 1 in 11 children in the UK, yet years of research underfunding means it still remains a relative mystery.

‘The development of a simple test that can be used to accurately identify children at risk of an asthma attack and then to get them on the right dose of the right treatment could be transformational in preventing attacks; this research is a promising step in that direction.

‘Parents of children with asthma now need to see more investment in asthma research like this so that life-changing breakthroughs become a reality. We need to keep children with asthma healthy and out of hospital.’

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