Dr Miriam Stoppard discusses the role hormones have to play when it comes to asthma, and how the ‘rhythmic illness’ means symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and a shortness of breath could be worse at different times of the day
Image: Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF)
All our bodily functions are at the mercy of our body clock – a 24-hour programme of waxing and waning hormones that wakes us in the morning and makes us feel sleepy at night.
It gives a rhythm to our temperature and even determines when we eat and go to the toilet.
It also determines when we feel at our lowest ebb, which is usually in the evening because of lower hormone levels.
It’s probable that many illnesses are “rhythmic”, meaning they are affected by your body clock, and research done by Asthma UK has shown asthma certainly is.
That means asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, could be worse at different times of day.
So if we get to the bottom of these key times, it would revolutionise the way doctors treat the 5.4 million people in the UK who have asthma.
It could even help to prevent life-threatening asthma attacks.
A study carried out by Dr Hannah Durrington of Manchester University looked at why people with asthma have worse symptoms at night and in the early hours of the morning.
It turns out tests of lung function, such as peak flow rate – which measures airflow out of the lungs –were lower at 4am compared to 4pm. Other tests had similar results.
So should this kind of testing be done at different times of day? And should participants be advised to look out for symptoms at certain hours and have their inhalers handy? This could revolutionise asthma management.
Doctors can assess the severity of asthma in a patient by measuring the levels of white blood cell eosinophils in blood or phlegm.
But Dr Durrington has revealed these levels change naturally over the course of a day, so if doctors timed appointments around these variations, they would get a more accurate picture of a person’s asthma.
Her research could help doctors determine whether there’s an optimum time of day to use inhalers and other medication in order to keep symptoms under control.
Dr Durrington says: “Asthma can have a huge impact on people, leaving them coughing, wheezing, gasping for breath and at risk of having a life-threatening asthma attack.
“It’s really exciting to think my research could play a part in making things better for people with asthma, helping doctors assess if patient’s symptoms are at their worst depending on the time of day and identifying exactly when people should take their inhalers to keep them well.”