Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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A bitter pill for asthmatics?

As a person with asthma, I’m always interested in  stories about asthma treatments. The latest news sounds really bizarre, but it may lead to more and better medicines down the road.

The gist: The lungs basically have taste buds, and when exposed to bitter flavors, the lungs relax, the airways open, and breathing gets easier.

This discovery comes from University of Maryland med school researchers who recently published their work in the online journal Nature Medicine. (You might have read a brief about this in today’s Free Lance-Star.)

The news is definitely counterintuitive—you’d think something bitter would make the lungs constrict. But researchers found the opposite.

They note that asthmatics shouldn’t rush out and subject themselves to bitter foods. Getting the proper dose would require inhaling aerosolized compounds, one story I read says. Clearly, more research is needed. But physicians think this could lead to really promising new medicines.

Here’s a link to a story about it in the Baltimore Sun:

And here are some signs that you or a loved one may have asthma, according to

– Shortness of breath

– Chest tightness

– A wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling

– Bouts of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a cold or flu

– Trouble sleeping because of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath (personally, I’m a spectacular nighttime cougher)

In children, frequent coughing is a big sign of asthma, along with wheezing and chest pain.

As the weather cools, many asthma patients are more prone to flare-ups. Seasonal allergies, exercise, viruses and breathing in dust or fumes are other common triggers.

Stay tuned for a posting this winter, when I’ll share the joys of wearing a bank-robber style ski mask to minimize the risk of a flare-up!