Health & Fitness

Why asthma affects women more than men

Sensing testosterone, the lymphoid cells stop multiplying thus preventing severe asthma in men.
Sensing testosterone, the lymphoid cells stop multiplying thus preventing severe asthma in men. 

A new study has found that testosterone protects males from developing asthma. This is a lung disease that causes breathing difficulties among those suffering from it.

The researchers noted that the results of the study, published in the Experimental Medicine journal, explain why girls are twice as likely to develop asthma after puberty as boys. Yet, during childhood years, the disease is more common in boys than girls.

They stated that the male testosterone hormone, which peaks during adolescence and early adulthood, suppresses the production of lymphoid cells which trigger the development of allergic asthma.

“There is a very interesting clinical observation showing that women are more affected and develop more severe asthma than men. So we tried to understand why this was happening,” said Dr Cyril Seillet, lead author of the study from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia.

The research team found that upon sensing testosterone, the lymphoid cells stop multiplying thus preventing severe asthma in men.

The cells are found in the lungs, skin and other body organs. They usually produce proteins which cause lung swelling and damage when people are exposed to pollen, dust mites, cigarette smoke, animal hair and other substances that trigger allergic asthma. Prof Gabrielle Belz, another lead author of the study, noted that the findings could help in the development of novel medicines for asthma.

She said that current treatments for severe asthma, such as steroids, are very broad based and can have significant side effects.

“Understanding the mechanism that drives the sex differences in allergic asthma could therefore lead to new treatments for the disease.”

According to her, researchers could begin by developing a drug that mimics the testosterone hormone which will suppress the multiplication of lymphoid cells hence forestalling asthma development. Similar tactics for targeting hormonal pathways have successfully been used to develop treatments for other diseases such as breast cancer.

Asthma is a chronic disease characterised by recurrent attacks of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing at night or early in the morning. The intensity of these symptoms vary in severity and frequency from person to person.

People with the disease can lead normal lives most of the times. Attacks only happen when something bothers their lungs. This causes the airways to swell and make breathing difficult by reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs.


In such instances, an inhaler with appropriate medicine is used to tackle the problem and alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by the attack.

Causes of asthma are not completely understood. However, risk factors for developing the disease include inhaling asthma triggers such as allergens and chemical irritants.

Those with a family history of the disease are considered to be vulnerable to attacks. The disease is incurable. But appropriate management can control the disorder and enable people to enjoy good quality of life.

Dr Jeremiah Chakaya, president of the Kenya Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, said that asthma cases are on the rise.