Steroids for asthma may lower inflammation but carry chronic side-effects

If you don’t have asthma, I’m willing to bet you know someone who does. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 13 people have this inflammatory lung condition. Personally, I have two close friends who have it, and I’ve seen how it can impact them…

When their asthma is flaring up, even a casual walk in the park is a struggle. They have a hard time breathing and may even need to sit down to keep their asthma from going from bad to worse… and by worse, I mean accelerating into a serious or even life-threatening asthma attack.

The fact is, every day, about 10 people in the U.S. die from asthma. And adults are roughly four times more likely to die from asthma than children. So, it’s definitely not a condition to be taken lightly. It needs to be managed and treated appropriately.

The most popular treatment is inhalers. But oral steroid tablets are often prescribed for asthma too. In fact, new research shows they’re prescribed a little more often than is safe based on their serious side effects…

Oral steroids are being overprescribed and it’s causing chronic health problems

As you probably know, steroids are a quick way to bring down inflammation. But they also come with heavy-duty side effects like the development of serious and chronic health problems. That’s why they’re best used in moderation. For people with asthma, for example, taking an oral steroid makes sense when you’re having a serious asthma attack, but not for maintenance of the condition.

Unfortunately, research shows oral steroids are being taken too often, and they’re wreaking havoc on the health of asthma sufferers.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia found that over a quarter of people with asthma were prescribed potentially dangerous amounts of steroid tablets and that they were at a much higher risk for serious side effects as a result.

These researchers looked at more than 120,000 instances where people with asthma were given one or more steroid tablet prescriptions by their doctor between 2014 and 2018. And they found that 25 percent of these people were more likely to have a chronic condition, like diabetes, osteoporosis or cataracts.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking… this is happening in Australia. What about the U.S.?

Well, doctors in the U.S. aren’t exactly known for their cautious, moderate approach to doling out prescriptions… and it’s no different with the oral steroids prescribed for asthma. In fact, a few years ago, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine found that oral steroids are being substantially overprescribed for children with asthma in the U.S.

So, what’s the solution? A better use of inhalers, according to researchers.

How preventer inhalers can prevent the need for oral steroids

In this latest study, researchers determined that half of asthma sufferers given multiple prescriptions for steroid tablets were not using inhalers as often as they should. They should be using something called preventer inhalers.

You see, you may or may not know that there are two types of inhalers, preventer inhalers and reliever inhalers. Reliever inhalers are what you use when you’re having an asthma attack. But preventer inhalers are used to control inflammation daily, so you don’t need the reliever inhaler (or oral steroid prescriptions) as often.

What else can you do to tame asthma without resorting to oral steroids?

There are a variety of natural remedies that can help reduce inflammation, like fish oil, a practice known as nasal rinsingvitamin Cvitamin D and one you may not be as familiar with, Nigella sativa — also known as black seed oil or golden oil. My colleague Virginia Tims-Lawson shared a study that indicted N. sativa was an effective anti-inflammatory that inhibited histamine release. The study authors felt it had potential for asthma therapy and prevention.

If you combine these remedies with the proper use of your inhalers, hopefully, your asthma symptoms will stay well managed and your doctor’s prescription pad will stay in her pocket.

Sources:

Asthma patients given risky levels of steroid tablets — MedicalXpress.

Researchers find overprescribing of oral corticosteroids in children with asthma — MedicalXpress.

Asthma — Mayo Clinic.

Asthma Facts and Figures — Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Preventer inhalers —Asthma UK.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.