Treatments for Asthma: Asthma Inhalers and Mepolizumab

Asthma is an extremely common lung disease in many countries. In the USA, there are around 15 million sufferers (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, USA); in Canada there are around three million (, and in the UK there are five million (Asthma UK). Asthma sufferers have various methods to reduce the symptoms using inhalers. Some research published early in 2014 suggests that some types of severe asthma may be reduced using Mepolizumab.

Asthma Treatment with Reliever Inhalers

Reliever inhalers are used “as needed”, when the asthmatic suffers from an attack of shortness of breath. The drug inside the reliever opens up the airways so that more oxygen can pass into the lungs. The drugs inside this type of delivery device are called bronchodilators.

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Asthma Treatment with Preventer Inhalers

The drugs inside this type of inhaler take a while to work, typically one or two weeks. This means that they cannot be used to give immediate relief from asthma. They are used with the presumption that an asthma attack will happen, and are taken every day. The drugs they contain are steroids, which work by reducing inflammation in the airways.

Asthma Treatment with Long Acting Bronchodilator Inhalers

Long acting bronchodilators are a “Reliever” type of drug, in that they work by opening up the airways, so that air can reach the lungs more easily. However, their effect is much longer than that of normal reliever drugs. Long-acting bronchodilators can work for hours after they are administered. Sometimes these drugs are taken as well as reliever drugs.

Asthma Treatment with Mepolizumab

Research published early in 2015 by a team from McMaster University, Canada, indicated that some patients with very severe asthma benefited from injections of Mepolizumab. Mepolizumab is an antibody, and is claimed to help reduce asthma severity by “blocking the production of eosinophils” (New England Journal of Medicine). Eosinophils, sometimes called Eosophil granulocytes or acidophils, are white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infection.

Of the three million estimated Canadians with asthma, some 60,000 to 120,000 have the asthma condition caused by eosinophils, according to Eurekalert. This represents about 2 to 4 percent of asthma sufferers in total, but this group are the ones with the most severe asthma. The injections of Mepolizumab allowed the asthma sufferers to reduce their dosage of prednisone, without their asthma getting worse.

Asthma Treatment Summary

There are three main types of drug used by asthma sufferers that are taken by inhaler. Research indicates that some of the most severe asthma conditions could be helped by injections of Mepolizumab.