Hunter research highlights need for a new approach to steroid use in COPD management

Research: Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, of HMRI and Newcastle University, said the research would help improve the quality of life for people with COPD.

Research: Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, of HMRI and Newcastle University, said the research would help improve the quality of life for people with COPD.

A CONVENTIONAL treatment for common respiratory diseases can lead to worse health outcomes for patients, researchers at the University of Newcastle and Imperial College London have found.

Research published in the international journal Nature Communications found the use of inhaled steroid hormones to treat symptoms of viral respiratory infections put people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at a higher risk of developing pneumonia.

“We are not very good at treating COPD,” Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, head of the HMRI Viral Immunology and Respiratory Disease Group, said.

“The current therapy is steroids – because we don’t have anything better, and the effectiveness of steroids is really mixed in COPD. Some people benefit from it, but many don’t.”

But prolonged use at high doses could cause side effects, including an increased risk of secondary infections like pneumonia, he said.

Because COPD damages the airways and lung tissue, compromising resistance to infection, something as simple as a common cold could cause severe respiratory complications for patients.

Associate Professor Bartlett said their research highlighted the need to supplement the use of steroids with other treatments to boost anti-viral immunity in order to counteract the negative effects.

He said there was “no question” steroids were effective for people with chronic inflammatory diseases such as COPD and asthma.

“You can still use them, because they are very good in the short term – they do reduce the duration of illness, and reduce hospitalisation associated with exacerbations,” he said. “But if we were to supplement the lack of immunity that goes with the use of steroids in COPD, you’d be preventing those longer term problems like prolonged infection, secondary infection and the severe illnesses, or in some cases death, associated with that.

“If we can minimise the severity, and protect against the occurrence of secondary infections that cause further permanent damage to the lungs, then we will improve the quality of life for people living with COPD.”