Asthma

Child using an asthma puffer

Asthma is a common respiratory (breathing) condition caused by the narrowing of small airways in the lungs – making it harder to breathe.

Children with asthma have sensitive airways that can become narrow due to swelling, inflammation, tight airway muscles and too much mucus. These factors make it more difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs, leading to problems with breathing, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.  

Asthma can run in families or be related to other conditions such as hay fever, eczema and allergies. Many factors can trigger an episode, also called an attack. These include viral infections such as colds, exercise, smoke, changes in the weather and air pollution. While we know the common triggers, we still don’t fully understand the underlying causes of asthma.

Most episodes are mild, but some can be severe, leaving children struggling to breathe, exhausted or limp.

 

Child using an asthma puffer

Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

Our asthma research

Our asthma research

The respiratory research group at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is responsible for the longest, most comprehensive follow-up study of childhood asthma. Melbourne Epidemiological Study of Childhood Asthma (MESCA) began in 1964 and is ongoing, having followed children with asthma into adulthood – reviewing participants seven times.

The project provides insight into the development and evolution of childhood asthma, including outcomes in adulthood and factors that promote symptom persistence or remission.

Researchers at Murdoch Children’s are using new laboratory methods to understand asthma-related lung inflammation. These studies will profile inflammation at a single-cell level and will help to identify new therapies. In addition, these studies will assess the role of the lung microbiome in asthma. The study will focus on preschool children with asthma, who are often neglected in therapeutic development and currently have few effective treatments available.

Our researchers are closely linked with our clinical teams at The Royal Children’s Hospital to assess current clinical practice and identify ways of improving care. For example, a new project will analyse how we can use our electronic medical record parent portal to allow objective monitoring of asthma control in between clinic visits. In addition, the CARE study focused on identifying the factors associated with repeated admission to hospital with asthma, a significant problem for both affected families and health services.

Our population allergy group is investigating the progression of allergic diseases including food allergy, asthma, eczema and hay fever.

We also want to understand the role of food in asthma development. Teenagers with food allergies are four times more likely to have asthma than those without and it appears to increase the risk of poorly controlled asthma

Our SchoolNuts study is assessing the impact of food allergy on asthma risk and severity, including factors that might change the control of allergy and asthma.

Our MIS BAIR study is investigating whether the BCG tuberculosis vaccine can reduce risks of asthma, food allergies, eczema, hay fever and infections in infants and children.

We are testing if a barrier skin cream will stop allergic irritants from penetrating infant skin. These irritants are thought to raise the risk of developing allergic conditions including asthma. 

Our vision

Our vision

We aim to improve the quality of life for children and adults with asthma. Our research pursues better treatment and health outcomes through reduced severity and symptoms, enabling people to breathe more easily. We hope that by studying the link between food allergy and asthma, we help to improve the control of both conditions.

Where to next?

Where to next?

We hope to use new laboratory studies and clinical care models to reduce the burden of asthma on children, their families and the health system.