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Not all asthma is the same. It is estimated 1 in 13 people in the U.S. have asthma, and of those, 5 to 10 percent have severe asthma.
Generally, asthma can be controlled through prescribed medication; however, people living with severe asthma have a more difficult time controlling their symptoms and their risk of exacerbations or asthma attacks is higher. Does this sound familiar? If so, you might have severe asthma and eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) may be one reason why.
GSK asthma expert, Dr. Nestor A. Molfino, helps explain the role of eosinophils and an option for those living with severe eosinophilic asthma to better control symptoms.
Q: Can you tell us more about asthma and signs that my asthma may be severe?
A: Asthma is a chronic lung disease where inflammation in the lungs narrows airways. However, the underlying cause of this inflammation can differ from person to person. In this way, no 2 cases of asthma are the same and these differences can help determine treatment options.
When distinguishing if asthma should be considered severe, I look at several factors. It’s considered severe if a person is taking all their asthma medication, but still struggling with poor symptom control, asthma attacks, or even hospitalizations. I don’t stop there. I then assess whether eosinophils may be contributing to the severity of asthma symptoms through a simple blood test.
Q: What are eosinophils and what is their role in asthma?
A: As part of the body’s normal immune system, you have a type of white blood cell called eosinophils. Eosinophils are an important part of your immune system and help play a role in protecting the body against infection. However, at increased levels, they can cause inflammation and swelling in the airways, increasing the risk of asthma attacks. About half of people with severe asthma have elevated levels of eosinophils, meaning they may have severe eosinophilic asthma.
Q: How do I know if my severe asthma is severe eosinophilic asthma?
A: When tested for asthma, you likely received a spirometry test. This test assesses how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale, and how quickly you exhale. If you have severe asthma, you should ask your doctor to test for blood eosinophils. This will help determine if your severe asthma is severe eosinophilic asthma.
Don’t worry – eosinophil levels are measured with a simple blood test. The results determine the number of eosinophils in your blood and inform your diagnosis.
Q: What is one way to help manage severe eosinophilic asthma?
A: Only recently have doctors better understood how elevated eosinophil levels can help directly target treatment in people living with severe eosinophilic asthma.
If you are already treated with other asthma medications and still have symptoms and/or asthma attacks, and you have elevated levels of eosinophils, your doctor may prescribe NUCALA (mepolizumab), a medication designed to reduce the number of eosinophils, which may help reduce airway inflammation. Reducing airway inflammation can lead to fewer severe asthma attacks.* NUCALA is an add-on, prescription maintenance treatment for patients 6 and older with severe eosinophilic asthma. NUCALA is not used to treat sudden breathing problems. The addition of NUCALA to your current asthma medications can help prevent severe asthma attacks and, under the guidance of your doctor, you may be able to reduce the use of oral steroids while maintaining asthma control. Your results may vary. NUCALA is taken once a month (every 4 weeks) and can be administered in a healthcare professional’s office or at home (for individuals 12 years and older). Patients as young as 6 who have severe eosinophilic asthma can receive NUCALA in their doctor’s office.
Talk to your doctor about your asthma symptoms to help get the best treatment plan for your severe asthma. To learn more about NUCALA as a treatment, as well as severe eosinophilic asthma, talk to your doctor and visit nucala.com.
*The mechanism of action of NUCALA is not fully understood.
Important Safety Information
Do not use NUCALA if you are allergic to mepolizumab or any of the ingredients in NUCALA. Do not use to treat sudden breathing problems.
NUCALA can cause serious side effects, including:
- allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions, including anaphylaxis. Serious allergic reactions can happen after you get your injection of NUCALA. Allergic reactions can sometimes happen hours or days after you get a dose of NUCALA. Tell your healthcare provider or get emergency help right away if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- swelling of your face, mouth, and tongue
- breathing problems
- fainting, dizziness, feeling light-headed (low blood pressure)
- Herpes zoster infections that can cause shingles have happened in people who received NUCALA.
Before receiving NUCALA, tell your healthcare provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you:
- are taking oral or inhaled corticosteroid medicines. Do not stop taking your other asthma medicines, including your corticosteroid medicines, unless instructed by your healthcare provider because this may cause other symptoms to come back.
- have a parasitic (helminth) infection.
- are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. It is not known if NUCALA may harm your unborn baby.
- A pregnancy registry for women who receive NUCALA while pregnant collects information about the health of you and your baby. You can talk to your healthcare provider about how to take part in this registry or you can get more information and register by calling 1-877-311-8972 or visit www.mothertobaby.org/asthma.
- are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. You and your healthcare provider should decide if you will use NUCALA and breastfeed. You should not do both without talking with your healthcare provider first.
- are taking prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
The most common side effects of NUCALA include: headache, injection site reactions (pain, redness, swelling, itching, or a burning feeling at the injection site), back pain, and weakness (fatigue).
Visit www.nucala.com to access useful resources and learn more about severe eosinophilic asthma.
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
NUCALA is available as a 100 mg/mL vial, Autoinjector, and prefilled syringe.
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