Undetected Infection Could Make Asthma Worse

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asthmaCHICAGO - A new discovery could help millions of Americans who suffer from asthma.

Medical Editor Mary Ann Childers reports on a connection between asthma and infections.

This new research suggests that an undetected lung infection could make chronic asthma worse. The good news is that it's easily treatable.

You wouldn't know it to look at her now, but doctors once gave Diane Cushman Neal only six months to live.

"I couldn't walk to the bathroom. I actually needed help to get there because I was that winded," Neal said.

The 37-year-old has chronic asthma and treatments were failing. On a hunch, a doctor at Denver's National Jewish Medical Center performed a biopsy of her lung.

"That was when he found the mycoplasma," she said.

Neal had pneumonia-causing bacteria in her lungs. The bacteria weren't making her sick, but they was worsening her asthma.

"They're revving up the allergic response or the inflammation in the airways and the narrowing and swelling of the airways, too," said Dr. Richard Martin, a pulmonologist.

The level of bacteria is so low that the body doesn't react to it, so patients don't know they have an infection. When doctors put Neal on antibiotics, she started breathing easier.

"All of a sudden I would be going longer during the day. I would be walking further, I would not be sleeping all the time. And I went, 'This is working,'" Neal said.

After finding the bacteria in Neal, Dr. Martin tested other asthma patients. What he discovered surprised him.

"It looks like at least 50 percent of patients may indeed have these bacteria in their airways," Martin said.

The study shows antibiotic treatment dramatically improves lung function, but only in asthma patients with the bacteria.

"I'm able to exercise. I've competed in several different races including finishing a triathlon," Neal said.

Even though she still has asthma, Neal's life is back on track.

Right now the only test for the bacteria is a bronchoscopy where doctors put a scope directly into the airways. Dr. Martin is working on a breath test that would make the test easier and available in the doctor's office.

source - CBS