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Botox may help with some cases of asthma

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

Researchers at the Monash Medical Centre in Australia will be testing asthma patients with a novel form of treatment for asthma: the wrinkle-smoothing agent Botox. The theory behind the treatment is that the Botox will relax the muscles of the voice box, making it easier for some asthma patients to breathe.

Botox has already been used to treat some forms of vocal chord dysfunction, such as abnormal, involuntary movements of the voice box. It is still not clear whether patients with voice box problems and people with asthma will respond to the treatment in a similar fashion, but the way the voice box malfunctions is similar in both conditions. Both have similar symptoms.

About 20 to 60% of asthma patients have voice box problems, and this is the segment of asthma sufferers which might potentially benefit from the treatment the most.

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“It's not clear why asthma might predispose someone to also having vocal cord problems, but vocal cord problems make asthma symptoms worse,” said Dr. Shirin Shafazand, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The voice box is a door to the windpipe. If it is malfunctioning, the condition results in breathing difficulties. Studies have shown those with asthma and voice box problems perceive their symptoms as more severe, Shafazand said. Voice box problems might also trigger an asthma attack. Since an asthma attack can be precipitated by stress, someone having problems breathing because of voice box spasms may experience anxiety and set off their asthma.

The active ingredient in Botox is botulinum toxin, a protein produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The drug is thought to work by blocking nerve signals to the muscles, thus relaxing them. Clearly, researchers will need to be careful in how they apply their treatment to the voice box, as it can potentially paralyze it.

It is also important to realize that even if it works, the Botox cannot treat the underlying asthma, which is an inflammatory response of the airways in the lungs. The inflammation narrows them, thereby causing difficulties in oxygen exchange. Botox treatment would only apply to the voice box and would serve only the subpopulation of asthma sufferers who also experience voice box difficulties.

It might make the asthma attacks more tolerable or less scary, but the inflammatory response awaits treatment by different medications.