Is it asthma? Perth researchers developing urine test to diagnose disease
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Is it asthma? Perth researchers developing urine test to diagnose disease

Watching your child have difficulty breathing is one of the scariest moments a parent can face.

Perth medical researchers are calling for parents of children who wheeze to join a trial which aims to develop a simple urine test to diagnose asthma.

Telethon Kids Institute researcher and respiratory expert Robert Lethbridge said he needed more children aged two to four or six to 10 who wheezed to take part.

He also needed children without breathing difficulties.

Half of all children will wheeze at some point, and 70 per cent of those will grow out of it by age six, Dr Lethbridge said.

Researchers are looking for children with wheeze to take part in a trial.

Researchers are looking for children with wheeze to take part in a trial.Credit:Tribune

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But others will continue and probably have asthma. There is currently some confusion about which medications to give young children as diagnosis was difficult.

There were no clinically viable methods to determine at an early stage whether a preschool child had transient wheeze or asthma, leaving clinicians no choice but to treat severe symptoms with asthma medication.

“We do have some medications that we know work in asthma,” Dr Lethbridge said.

“But for these small children, where it may be wheezing or it may be asthma, sometimes the medications don’t seem to work and it might be that we are actually trying to treat a different disease, it might be they don’t have asthma, they just have something else, a transient wheeze.”

This meant some children were being exposed to medications they did not need, such as inhaled and systemic glucocorticosteroids, which could cause significant long-term side effects.

In other cases asthma was being missed and not treated with medications that would actually help.

The development of a good diagnosis test would then help researchers develop treatments and potentially cures, and hopefully prevent recurrent hospital admissions over winter, Dr Lethbridge said.

Taking part in the study was simple, with the specialists offering an initial assessment of the child’s condition, including a physical examination, and looking into their medical history, then asking for a urine sample during wheeze attacks and other times during the study.

The researchers were looking at the chemical markers in urine to see if a simple test might show whether a child has asthma or just a wheeze.

“A lot of people think that any child that wheezes must have asthma, but actually there is a lot of muddled language around that,” Dr Lethbridge said.

“The hope is that there are going to be different types of chemicals seen in the children that wheeze versus those children that don’t.

“Ideally we can follow them up and see which children grow out of their wheezing and which ones continue on to have asthma down the line."

To take part call 0402 047 078 or 6319 1632 or visit www.telethonkids.org.au/asthmastudy

Daile Cross has been with WAtoday since its inception. She writes news features and covers the education round.