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The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America makes every May Asthma Awareness Month. On this Asthma Awareness Day, let's take a look at 10 innovations in asthma treatment that help asthmatics breathe just a little easier.

Asthma is a common disease around the world, and it's especially common in the United States. At least 24 million people in the USA are asthmatics, and asthma is the leading chronic illness in American children. Epidemiologists estimate that 3 to 10% of Americans suffer exercise-induced asthma, as do 2 to 10% of the populations of Canada, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The disease process of asthma is exceedingly complex, involving hyper-responsiveness of the bronchial passages, inflammation of the airways, obstructions of airflow, and, in many cases allergies.

Asthma isn't just embarrassing on the playground or in the classroom. Asthma can be a killer. Every day in the United States alone, 9 people die of asthma. If you are an asthmatic, getting your disease under control could literally save your life. Fortunately, asthma is a frequently a preventable disease. Here are five surprising insights from recent scientific studies that can help asthmatics lead healthier lives.

1. Too much vitamin D can aggravate asthma.

Vitamin D is supposed to be a miracle vitamin, and many heath commentators tell us we just can't get enough. If you have asthma, however, you really can get too much vitamin D, especially if you live in tropical or subtropical regions of the world, within 30 degrees north or south of the equator. Scientists have noticed that increased UV-B sunlight exposure leads to higher rates of asthma. It is well known that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system, and it's also well known that allergy-induced asthma results from an "overactive" immune system. Don't overdo vitamin D supplementation, and don't spend too much time in direct sun.

2. Obesity aggravates asthma, but obese people are less likely to die of the disease.

Noting an "obesity paradox," physicians presenting research papers at the 2012 conference of the American College of Chest Physicians showed data indicating that people who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more are less likely to suffer "fatal aggravations" of asthma, leading to death. The physicians presenting their findings speculate that obesity interferes with the ability of the immune system to produce inflammatory cytokines that cause especially intense asthma attacks.

3. Asthma may be caused by a fungus among us.

Researchers at the Institute of Primary Care and Public Health at Cardiff University in Wales (in the UK) have found that the lungs of asthmatics are often filled with enormous numbers of tiny fungi. Everyone has small numbers of fungi in their lungs, but asthmatics have more fungi and different species of fungi than those found in the lungs of non-asthmatic people.

4. People who have asthma tend to be anxious.

This finding of a research team at the University of Vienna in Austria would seem just to be common sense, but the fact is, nearly everyone who has asthma suffers chronic, intense anxiety, 88% of asthmatics in the Austrian study. Anxiety in asthma takes its toll on muscle control, causing asthmatics to trip more, fall more, drop objects more often, and have greater muscle coordination problems in sports and in the activities of daily living.

5. House dust can trigger asthma attacks, but it isn't just any kind of house dust that is the most problematic.

Dr. Donald Cook of the National Institutes of Health and Duke University and colleagues have found that it's the bacteria on house dusts that cause the allergies that trigger an allergic attack. This means that combination of dampness and dustiness is harder on asthma sufferers than dust in a low-humidity house.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Randolph C. Exercise-induced asthma: update on pathophysiology, clinical diagnosis, and treatment. Curr Probl Pediatr. Feb 1997. 27(2):53-77.
  • Scott M, Roberts G, Kurukulaaratchy RJ, Matthews S, Nove A, Arshad SH. Multifaceted allergen avoidance during infancy reduces asthma during childhood with the effect persisting until age 18 years. Thorax. Dec 2012. 67(12):1046-51.
  • Photo courtesy of winemegup on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/winemegup/2545890883