London: Thousands of children with asthma are being prescribed inhalers that do not work and cause their condition to get worse, researchers say.
Failure to treat asthma with effective drugs causes the condition to grow worse, with an increase in wheezing and coughing and a higher risk of attacks, the Telegraph reported.
A simple saliva test could identify which children carry the offending gene and allow doctors to prescribe an alternative such as Montelukast (also known as Singulair), a pill which is less effective for most children but much better for those who do not respond to Salmeterol.
According to Prof Somnath Mukhopadhyay from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who led the study, “We should try to get some advice from the Department of Health or Asthma UK on the kind of advice we should be giving mothers and GPs, this is something we really need.”
When children are diagnosed with asthma they are typically given a blue Ventolin inhaler to provide instant relief from attacks, but some need to use them so frequently that doctors also prescribe a steroid inhaler or, where this does not work, Salmeterol for longer-acting treatment.
Salmeterol works by binding to a molecule in the body called the beta-2 receptor, but one in seven asthma sufferers has a genetic mutation in the molecule which makes the treatment less effective.
The researchers studied 62 children carrying the mutation who regularly used steroid inhalers but had still missed school or needed hospital treatment for their asthma.
Half of the children were given Salmeterol inhalers and half took Montelukast pills over the course of a year. Those given Montelukast had a better quality of life, wheezed and coughed less, and relied less on their blue "reliever" inhalers.
At the start of the project a third of the children needed to use their relievers every day, but a year later this had halved among those using Montelukast.
There are also fears that the same patients may be responding worse to their blue inhalers because they use a similar type of drug, but further studies are needed to examine any possible link, he added.
The study has been published in the Clinical Science journal.