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A 100% Success Rate Cure for Asthma? Sounds a bit fishy

Asthma is a terrible affliction, sufferers will do almost anything to avoid the suffocating feeling it causes. Even swallowing fish! That is exactly what almost fifty thousand people did earlier this month in India.

Asthma is a terrible affliction, often triggered by allergies. Sufferers will do almost anything to avoid the suffocating feeling it causes. Even swallowing fish! Yet, that is exactly what almost fifty thousand people did earlier this month, and have done for the last 100 years, during “Mrigasira Karthi”, an annual event that takes place in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad put on by the Bathini Goud family in preparation for allergy season. The event attracts asthma suffers from all over the region who come to be treated with the family’s unique natural remedy: a small fish covered in a secret yellow paste, which is to be ingested live. The herbal paste is a secret formula, but the family claims that after 3-5 consecutive years of treatment and adherence to a special 40-day diet, almost anybody can be cured of asthma. Indian physicians claim that given the lack of scientific evidence, the “cure” is psychological rather than physiological. Nevertheless,  the treatment is highly popular amongst the locals who strongly believe in this fishy tradition.

                By contrast, scientific medicine addresses asthma through the use of medications and allergy shots. Allergy desensitization injections or allergen immunotherapy involve exposing the immune system to tiny quantities of a patient’s specific allergen (cat hair or ragweed, for example) with hopes of increasing the body’s tolerance leading to reduced symptoms on exposure. Although many studies have shown that after repeated injections allergy symptoms can improve, the efficacy of such treatments for asthma prevention is questionable since about 1/3 of asthma patients actually experience adverse reactions to the immunotherapy. In clear cases like severe hay fever or bee stings, the shots can work effectively, but in more complicated asthmatics with multiple allergies, the efficacy is reduced.

                Asthma and seasonal allergies share a similar mechanism: an overactive immune response to innocuous substances like ragweed or cat hair. The immune system triggers a chain reaction in which inflammation mediators like histamine and leukotrienes are released from the cells where they are stored. This can lead to swelling of the throat, as well as coughing, shortness of breath and occasionally chest pain. The majority of asthmatics can attribute onset of attacks to some kind of trigger like pollen, aspirin, alcohol, exercise or even extreme temperatures, but in about 10-30% of cases no specific cause can be identified. There is no cure for asthma, only methods of managing symptoms which when carefully adhered to, lead to positive outcomes.  

                Typically asthma treatments involve avoiding allergens where possible, bronchodilators to immediately ease breathing problems and regular use of corticosteroids to prevent attacks. While these treatments cannot cure asthma, they have a far better chance of managing the disease than swallowing fish.

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