Researchers in Southampton have made a fresh breakthrough in the fight against asthma.

A new study of 111 children found symptoms can be reduced from a young age through exposure to high levels of allergic materials – in this case dust mites.

The study, conducted by Prof Hasan Arshad of the University of Southampton, revealed just nine per cent of those who were exposed to the allergic material had symptoms of asthma compared to 25 per cent of the control group.

It yielded similar results to a study conducted 20 years ago by Prof Arshad where he limited 120 children’s exposure to allergic materials.

Speaking at a University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust meeting on asthma and allergens, he said: “This approach is safe and effective and a treatment that can be given out easily and effectively. It’s not expensive and may well have a lifelong benefit, which is what we hope.”

As reported by the Daily Echo, UHS was named a world centre of excellence for asthma and allergy by the World Allergy Organisation earlier this year, and is the only service in the world to hold this status.

Half of the children were given doses every three months from the age of six months to 18 months.
Prof Arshad said a follow up study was needed to see how the children fared at age five before the treatment could be publically available.

The good news comes weeks after World Health Organisation named and shamed the city for breaching safe air pollution levels – which Prof Arshad said could “more than double” the effects of asthma.

After the meeting Prof Arshad added: “If you have pollution along with allergens that cause asthma the effect more than doubles and they spark off inflammation and asthma symptoms. There are strict controls over air pollution and we need to adhere to these to stop this happening.”

The meeting also heard Southampton doctors were working on other asthma treatments including medicine injections every two-to-four weeks and ‘bronchial thermoplasty’ where smooth muscle in the lungs is heated using a small probe to prevent attacks.

Dr Paddy Dennison, UHS respiratory consultant, said: “It’s new and the amount of studies is limited but it seems to reduce attack rates and reduce dependence on steroids.”

But he added neither treatment is cost effective yet, as both can cost up to £10,000 per patient.

So far only one thermoplasty has been carried out at Southampton General Hospital but UHS is in the process of buying a thermoplasty unit and is teaming up with its counterpart in Portsmouth to cover the costs and share the technology.