I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology held in Boston from Nov 3-8. Sure the meeting was good, but the food was even better. Consider the oldest “active” restaurant in America, Union Oyster House–the stew was delightful and if you’re bored with allergies, peruse the menu on-line and dream of dining with JFK (he has a booth in his name there).
On to what’s new in allergy & asthma….
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Smoking bans in Tulsa have stirred some vigorous debate this year (see link). Most importantly, do they work? Information presented last week would suggest a resounding YES! In the U.S. more than 200,000 asthma admissions per year are attributed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). Smoking bans can prevent this complication! The Scottish health system has the database to measure the effects of a community-wide smoking ban and their intervention was associated with an 18% reduction in hospital admissions for asthma (NEJM 2010). Wow
If you have to smoke inside, HEPA filters reduced asthma visits in 6-12-year-old children by 18%.
VCD–Vocal Cord Dysfunction
I have a post on this blog describing VCD or paradoxical vocal cord motion. Our terminology is now changing and instead of VCD, I like the term” irritable larnyx syndrome (WILS).” The vocal cords are “housed” in the larynx and many structures and muscles have to work correctly in order for the vocal cords to allow air in and out of the lungs. This implies that multiple triggers will cause an attack and patients with difficult asthma may have a laryngeal dysfunction not just VCD. If you don’t believe me, look at this study. World-wide recognition (AJRCCM, a study from Australia).
Way too many choices in the treatment of asthma! Why would you consider Tiotropium or Spiriva for asthma?
1. Tiotropium works as step-up therapy in adult asthma. Some patients just can’t tolerate albuterol or Xopenex™ because of tremor and other side effects. Now you have an alternative: There were similar improvements in lung function and symptom-free days with Spiriva as adding long acting bronchodilator (NEJM 2011).
2. Tiotropium does fit into the Asthma Guidelines (2007) and works better than increasing the dose of inhaled steroids (yea, less steroids) and is equal to salmeterol (Serevent).
Anti IL-13 (lebrikuzumab)–Did you say leprechaun?
There is one take home message with the use of lebrikuzumab:
1. Personalized medicine is here! In this study, patients that improved with anti IL-13 also had elevated levels of periostin in blood tests. Periostin is a marker of airway remodelling and gives us a clue as to why and how IL-13 contributes to asthma. Lebrikizumab improved FEV1, but there was no improvement in symptoms or medication use (NEJM 2011).
This comes from the literature review at the College meeting—1 of every 6 children with asthma seen the ED are prescribed antibiotics. Don’t you think this is high for a “practice” that is supposed to be very selective in who gets antibiotics? Generally, antibiotics are not helpful in asthma anyway. More than 2 courses of antibiotics for cough in a 6-month time frame should warrant consideration of asthma as a cause (Pediatrics, 2011).
In a study in Arizona, Fernandez et al. showed skin testing to Alternaria to be surprisingly accurate. Ninety-six percent of patients with a positive skin test to this mold had a positive bronchial provocation test with Alternaria. In Arizona, Alternaria has surpassed dust mite as number one allergen in asthma (due to dry climate). I wonder what results would be in Oklahoma? Here’s what alternaria looks like:
Come on now, do allergy shots REALLY work? Shots with dust mite allowed for inhaled steroid reduction by 50% in children with asthma vs. 30% in controls. Not bad! Do I have to take my medication with shots? Adding dust mite shots to pharmacologic treatment was an effective and safe strategy to reduce corticosteroid doses while maintaining disease control in children with mite-induced allergic asthma (JACI 2011).
Which inhaled steroid to use? Does it matter? QVAR™ & Alvesco™ have said for quite some time that small particles penetrate the airways of an asthmatic better than the competition. They may be right– small particle size inhaled steroids may allow for equal efficacy (benefit) with 1/2 to 1/3 the dose of a larger size of same steroid. Marketing isn’t bad, sometimes it’s just delayed results.
SABA update: Levalbuterol (Xopenex™) may not have any real-life advantages over albuterol. Even in the Xopenex™ package insert, there is mention that there was no difference in heart rate or tremor. In patients who swear by Xopenex™, there’s no reason to change, just start out with cheaper albuterol.
Antihistamines for asthma?
Many patients take antihistamines every day like vitamins. They feel better if an antihistamine is “on-board.” Once again, learn from your patient….they will often give you clues to what medications work. Symptom scores in asthma patients show comparable improvement when given desloratadine (antihistamine) compared to montelukast. Use of antihistamine may prevent the development of asthma in some predisposed children. Well I’ll be….
Asthma in the elderly
The majority of asthma deaths are in patients older than 65.
Asthma in adults/elderly is still predominantly an atopic disease. This means, it’s still due to allergy. Don’t forget to test your older population. In a University of Michigan study, 77% of adult asthma patients were skin test positive.
Depression is definitely underdiagnosed in our loved ones who have retired (ie, grandma & grandpa). Why? They should have a carefree life during retirement, but they don’t. Depression is a significant factor for poor asthma quality of life in the elderly. You are 10x more likely to suffer from psychological dysfunction if you have more than 3 exacerbation of asthma in a single year.
Just goes to show you that allergic respiratory disease is a very complicated condition and every year I’m challenged with new treatments! I can’t ask for anything more.