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updated 7/1/2011 3:01:28 PM ET 2011-07-01T19:01:28

The wrinkle-smoother Botox might  help alleviate certain symptoms of asthma, researchers say.

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The drug will be tested on asthmatic patients who also suffer problems with their voice box, which can go into spasm, according to Monash Medical Centre in Australia. The idea is that the Botox will relax the muscle that controls the voice box, possibly making it easier for these patients to breathe.

“It’s the first time in the world that there has been such a new approach to a very difficult problem," said Peter Holmes, a researcher at the center.

Botox has been used in some cases to treat people who suffer from vocal cord dysfunction, a condition characterized by abnormal movement of the voice box muscle, said Dr. John Mastronarde, director of the Ohio State Asthma Center.

"It's interesting and certainly has some potential to help people," Mastronarde said of the new study, but added it's not clear that patients with asthma and voice box problems would respond in the same way to the treatment, so its important to test it first.

People with vocal cord dysfunction and people with asthma have similar symptoms, so it can be hard to distinguish between the two, Mastronarde said. Somewhere between 20 and 60 percent of asthma patients have been found to also have vocal cord problems, he said.

It's not clear why asthma might predispose someone to also having vocal cord problems,  but vocal cord problems make asthma symptoms worse, said Dr. Shirin Shafazand, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The voice box can be thought of as a door to the windpipe, Shafazand told MyHealthNewsDaily. And if that door isn't working properly, or is closed when it should be open, a patient would have problems breathing, she said.

Studies have shown those with asthma and voice box problems perceive their symptoms as more severe, Shafazand said.

Voice box problems might also trigger asthma symptoms, Mastronarde said. Stress is known to exacerbate asthma symptoms. If someone is having problems breathing because of voice box spasms, they may experience anxiety and set off their asthma. "You can get into a vicious cycle," Mastronarde said.

Botox contains botulinum toxin, a protein produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The drug is thought to work by blocking nerve signals to the muscles, thus relaxing them.

The drug is a toxin, and the researchers need to be careful they don't paralyze the voice box muscles completely, Shafazand said, a risk she said she is sure the researchers are aware of.

It remains to be seen whether this treatment will work, Shafazand said. Even if it does work, she added, it will not treat the underlying asthma, which arises when airways to the lungs become inflamed or narrowed, resulting in breathlessness, wheezing and coughing.

 

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