Asthma affects 5.2m people in the UK and there is no cure for this condition but its symptoms could be eased by taking steroids.
The international study of 278 patients suggests an antibiotic called Telithromycin that can reduce symptoms of asthma and improve lung function.
Patients in 70 countries around the world, including St. Mary’s Hospital in London, were enrolled in the study within 24 hours of needing medical attention for an acute asthma attack and split into two groups.
One group were given 800 mgs of Telithromycin daily for 10 days while the other received a dummy version of the drug.
Symptoms and lung function for the patients in the Telithromycin group improved significantly compared to those given the dummy drug.
The researchers said that Improvements were around twice as great towards the end of the treatment period and recovery time from an acute attack was also reduced from eight to five days for those on the drug, which is not licensed for the treatment of asthma. However, no improvement was seen in tests of lung capacity. Most acute asthma attacks are thought to be linked with viral infections which are not affected by antibiotics.
Research leader Professor Sebastian Johnston, from Imperial College London, said that although antibiotics traditionally have not proven effective in treating asthma attacks, this development could open up a whole new area of research.