Asthma Medication Not Working? Genetics Could Be at Fault

Is your asthma medication living up to its promise to control your persistent symptoms? If the answer is no, you may be surprised to find out that the problem could be a "relative" thing.

Facts About Corticosteroids for Asthma

Much variation exists in how well people respond to inhaled corticosteroids, which is a common asthma medication used to treat persistent asthma and reduce airway swelling. In fact, 40 percent of patients who use this form of treatment today find that it doesn't provide the long-term control they seek, and this problem seems to run in families.

The Link Between Genes and Asthma Treatment

To understand why corticosteroids for asthma can be effective for some people and not for others and why the response to this treatment seems to be inherited, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently funded a study performed by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. These scientists looked at the genetic makeup of 1,000 children and parents with asthma who were enrolled in one of five different clinical trials on asthma treatment options.

What the researchers discovered was that those people who didn't get much symptom improvement from inhaled steroids all have a specific gene variant that inhaled the effectiveness of the medication. This genetic factor helped explain why corticosteroids work for some families and not others. These findings were included in the New England Journal of Medicine in September 2011.

Why Genes and Asthma Treatment Matters

The link between genes and asthma treatment effectiveness is significant for several reasons. First, if you're one of the many people who have been unsuccessful in controlling asthma with corticosteroids, know that it might not be because of  incorrect use, but rather the result of genetic makeup. In addition, these findings also call attention to the importance of recognizing individual differences in asthma management and designing treatment plans based on each person's specific needs rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Finally, these findings can make it possible for doctors to predict who will have the most success from corticosteroids and who may need to try alternative treatment methods to manage their symptoms.

The Future of Asthma and Genetics

More research still needs to be done on in order to gain an even better understanding of the relationship between genetics and asthma to determine what types of treatment strategies will be most effective for different patients.

What This Means for You

If you're taking an inhaled corticosteroid for asthma and find that it isn't working as well as you'd like, it's important to talk to your doctor about your concerns since there's no need for you to continue suffering unnecessarily. Once your doctor knows that it isn't a good fit for you, he'll be able to suggest treatment alternatives to try. It may take some experimenting but with some patience, you should be able to find the best strategy that will work for your specific situation.




"Gene Could Explain Why Asthma Treatments Fail Some." Reuters, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

"NIH-funded Study Connects Gene Variant to Response to Asthma Drugs." Science Newsline. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

Tantisira, Kelan. "Genomewide Association between GLCCI1 and Response to Glucocorticoid Therapy in Asthma." New England Journal of Medicine (365) (29 Sept. 2011): 1173-1183. Web, 15 Oct. 2011.