Asthma drug brings hope for COVID-19 treatment

A steroid commonly used in asthma inhalers has the potential to prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms. It could treat the illness early on and help to reduce pressure on hospitals.

  • Author Louisa Wright, Madelaine Pitt Date 13.04.2021

A common asthma medication that can be used at home might be an effective treatment for early COVID-19 in adults, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal.

University of Oxford researchers found that patients who took the drug budesonide when their first COVID-19 symptoms started were less likely to need urgent medical care or hospitalization, and had a shorter recovery time. It also reduced the chance of persistent symptoms and fever.

The randomized controlled trial involved 146 adults within seven days of the onset of mild COVID-19 symptoms. Half of the participants inhaled budesonide twice a day until their symptoms resolved, and the other half received the usual care given based on age, gender and existing illnesses.

In the budesonide group, only one person needed urgent medical care, compared to 10 people in the group who received the standard care for COVID-19.

Another University of Oxford study that has yet to be peer reviewed also found that inhaled budesonide helped people who were at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes recover quicker.

“There’s good biological plausibility” for why corticosteroids would work, Chloe Bloom, a senior clinical research fellow at Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute, told DW. Bloom was not involved in the study.

Corticosteroids like dexamethasone are already being used effectively in hospitalized, severely ill COVID-19 patients. Bloom said researchers think it likely reduces the inflammation associated with severe COVID-19. Budesonide probably works in a similar way, but may be more localized.

Studies have also shown that the use of inhaled steroids in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reduced the receptor that allows Sars-CoV-2 into the lungs, said Bloom, and lab work has shown that inhaled steroids can possibly prevent virus replication.

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