Why Kids Wheeze Even When They Don't Have Asthma


Researchers could be on their way to developing new and more effective cough treatments for young people thanks to the identification of a key protein. tatyana_tomsickova/ThinkStock

For many of us, a cough might occur at the tail-end of a miserable cold. It usually lasts a lot longer than we'd expect (an average duration of 18 days!) but does eventually abate. Others experience the misery of a chronic cough due to allergens or asthma. In children, however, a chronic cough or wheezing can be the result of not just a cold or allergies, but also a very particular protein.

Here's the backstory: Researchers have been puzzled why children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) had the cough and wheezing associated with asthma, but didn't respond to the same drugs that work for adults with asthma. RSV is a super common and typically mild virus that acts a lot like a cold would in infected people.

A protein appears to be behind that discrepancy. An October 2017 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that the protein, transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (or TRPV1), had increased activation in children's — but not adults' — bronchial epithelial cells infected with RSV.

That's interesting because the TRPV1 protein is known for playing a role in all the miserable stuff that comes with a cough: narrowing airways, mucus and the reflex of a cough.

Learning that TRPV1 activation isn't allergy-related opens the door to developing new and more effective cough treatment for young people.

And that's a significant development, especially when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Pediatric Advisory Committee has declared that the risk of using certain opioids in children's cough medication outweighs the benefits.


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