Can Faster Treatment Also Help Prevent Asthma in Children?

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Asthma and Chronic Childhood Disease

Unfortunately for tens of thousands of children, the start of school in the fall coincides with the beginning of ragweed season, with the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes that go along with that irritating allergy.

But for youngsters in the Madison area, this ragweed season may be different and better. The Asthma and Allergy Clinical Research Group at University of Wisconsin Medical School is beginning an important study that will test whether a short course of treatment during the summer provides long-term relief from ragweed allergy symptoms.

What may be even more appealing, however, is the prospect that the treatment may actually help prevent development of asthma, the nation's most prevalent chronic disease of childhood. About 9 percent of American children have asthma, and the incidence of the disease continues to rise.

"Ragweed is the number-one cause of 'hay fever' symptoms," notes the study's principal investigator, Mark Moss, MD. "The season typically starts in mid-August and peaks in mid-September, and it is not only miserable during the season; having allergies makes children more likely to develop asthma. So we are looking at this research as potentially a double benefit to children by treating allergy symptoms now and preventing asthma later."

Ragweed, a member of the aster family, is a flowering weed whose pollen produces allergic reactions in both children and adults. Current treatment typically involves medications and/or allergy shots (immunotherapy) given over a period of several months or even years.

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In the new study, youngsters ages six to 15 years will be randomly assigned to one of two groups - those receiving the regimen of one shot per week for six weeks or those receiving a placebo (on the same schedule). Moss said there is some evidence that the shorter time period for treatment may be safer than traditional immunotherapy, and this will be closely monitored during the study.

"We will track these youngsters through three ragweed seasons to assess whether they develop asthma later in childhood," says Moss. "The hope is that this form of treatment might work like a vaccine for asthma."

Although ragweed is a fall allergen, interested parents should call soon so that children can be enrolled and treated before ragweed season gets underway.

For more information about the ragweed study, call 608-263-6049.

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MADISON - Copyright

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