Botox, or botulinum toxin type A, which is best-known for smoothing away facial wrinkles is to be tested as an asthma treatment at Melbourne's Monash University. A recent survey by the university found that about half of severe asthmatics suffer problems with their voice box as well as their lungs. The problems were similar to vocal cord dysphonia – or loss of voice through overuse – a condition which Botox is frequently used to fix.
Researchers hope the injections of botox will allow the muscles to relax and remove any sensation of breathlessness. The director of respiratory medicine at the Monash Medical Centre, Professor Phil Bardin said, “We don't think this will cure these asthmatics but it will help them to live better with asthma. They won't have asthma symptoms which make them unable to walk far or go up stairs or when their chest tightens up they think they are going to die. It will help them live with an illness that disables them.”
More than five million people in the UK are being treated for asthma. Asthma symptoms such as dry coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing can often cause the airways to narrow.
Professor Bardin explained that scans had shown that voice boxes of severe asthmatics often go into spasm. The researchers hope that the Botox will prevent the spasms but then allow the voice box to return to normal functioning after about three months. He added, “We have always wondered about why people with severe asthma would come in and say, 'My asthma is terrible', and would point to their throats.”
The Melbourne trial will begin within the coming months and is due to last a year. It will recruit 60 patients. The only side-effects of having the Botox injected into the throat area appear to be a softening of the person's voice.
The National Asthma Council Australia is warning asthma sufferers of a dangerous couple of months ahead, with a high prevalence of cold and flu increasing the risk of serious attacks. The council released new survey findings today that showed 20 per cent of adults with asthma expected to have at least one attack per week this winter and 52 per cent said they had already suffered an attack since June 1.