UT research links asthma symptoms with common cold

Bharath Lavendra

Researchers at UT have found a link between worsening asthma symptoms and an unexpected variable: the common cold.

Rosalind Eggo, a former postdoctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences, was part of the research group that established a connection between the cold viruses and asthma exacerbations — worsening asthma symptoms in school-age children.

“Asthma exacerbations have been linked to respiratory viruses in other studies,” Eggo said. “We [used] a mathematical model to simulate common cold prevalence and [used] this as an input to determine risk to asthmatics.”

The research team collected data from eight Texas cities about asthma attacks using a simulation of cold virus prevalence to determine how the two variables were linked. They found that the most hospitalizations for asthma attacks happened when students return from school breaks. 

Eggo worked with Lauren Meyers, an integrative biology professor on the project, and found that the highest number of hospitalizations in the data set occurred after school started in August and in late January after students returned from winter break.

Biochemistry junior Sruthi Kumpatla said the researchers might be establishing causation that does not actually exist.

“The scope of the experiment seemed narrow,” Kumpatla said. “There could be other factors that affect asthma episodes, like a change in diet.”

Public health junior Monika Shah said the research seemed to make sense, and she would like to look into the experiment even more.

“It’s important that we focus on the preventative aspect of asthma at an early stage,” Shah said. “This would reduce the impact and severity of the asthma symptoms later in the process.”

Shah also said the research focused on both downstream and upstream factors. The downstream factors deal with biological causes of disease, while the upstream factors take into account social and environmental reasons. 

Eggo said the increased exposure to the cold virus was a good indicator that asthma exacerbations were going to increase as well.

“This study increases understanding of how cold viruses spread through a population. We show that the level of cold infections in a city directly influences the risk of exacerbation to asthmatic people,” Eggo said. “When there is a higher level of colds circulating, asthmatic people are more at risk of a severe exacerbation.”