For most people, breathing is an automatic, thoughtless process. It’s not something we actively consider, unless, of course, we’re involved in a strenuous activity or suffer from a serious lung disorder like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For individuals with COPD, structural changes in the lungs and constant shortness of breath can make breathing a strenuous ordeal. Although a number of common risk factors for COPD have been identified, scientists continue to search for other elusive causes. Now, according to recent research findings, allergic asthma attacks may be linked to death from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseas.
In this study, researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, investigated 7,556 average citizens from three Dutch communities. Based on data compiled in a respiratory survey collected between 1964 and 1972, the scientists found that 121 deaths had COPD as a primary cause and 137 had COPD as a secondary cause. They hoped to determine which factors increased the risk of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseas.
Statistical analyses uncovered the well-known risk factors for COPD mortality: smoking, male gender, older age, low-lung function, being underweight, and breathlessness. An unusual finding, however, was that a history of eosinophilia in combination with asthma attacks also predicted death from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseas. Eosinophilia, an abnormal increase in the number of eosinophils (white blood cells) in the blood, reflects an allergic response in the body.
Uncertain about this finding, the researchers suggest that it may be the result of mislabeling the cause of death. Consequently, deaths due to asthma may have been underestimated in favor of deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseas. But, if it is an actual phenomenon, the authors suggest that a history of allergic asthma attacks should be added to the list of traditional risk factors for COPD mortality. This is potentially an important discovery, since rates of asthma are on the rise in western countries. The authors speculate that an increased prevalence of asthma could, in turn, lead to an increase in COPD-related deaths.