New research on the link between infertility and asthma in women has shed further light, and could lead to fewer couples needing fertility treatment.
A study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, has found that women with asthma who only use short-acting asthma relievers take longer to become pregnant than other women, while the opposite was true for women who use long-acting asthma preventers.
The study was led by the University of Adelaide and involved more than 5600 women from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Research leader Dr Luke Grzeskowiak believes the findings could contribute to fewer couples seeking fertility treatment: "This study shows that women using short-acting asthma relievers take longer to get pregnant. On the other hand, continued use of long-acting asthma preventers to control asthma seems to protect fertility and reduce the time it takes women with asthma to become pregnant. This could lead to a reduction in the need for fertility treatments."
Five to 10 per cent of women worldwide suffer from asthma and it is one of the most common chronic medical conditions in women of reproductive age.
In the study, women using short-acting reliever medication (known as beta-agonists) took 20 per cent longer to conceive on average. They were also 30 per cent more likely to have taken more than a year to conceive.
This difference remained even after researchers took other factors known to influence fertility into account, such as age and weight.
While previous studies have identified a link between asthma and female infertility, the impact of asthma treatments on fertility has not been clear. The next step in this research would be to find out how asthma or asthma treatments lead to fertility problems, Dr Grzeskowiak says.
"As well as affecting the lungs, asthma could cause inflammation elsewhere in the body, including the uterus. It could also affect the health of eggs in the ovaries."
He explains that long-acting preventers (inhaled corticosteroids) suppress the immune system, whereas short-acting asthma treatments do not alter immune function.
"In women who are only using relievers it's possible that, while their asthma symptoms may improve, inflammation may still be present in the lungs and other organs in the body."
In the meantime Dr Grzeskowiak advises women to take steps to get their asthma under control before trying to conceive. Further research is planned.
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