Scientists have found a renegade gene which could be the direct cause of severe asthma in young children.
The gene, CDHR3, is especially active in epithelial cells lining the inner surfaces of the airways.
Researchers studied and compared the complete genetic codes, or genomes, of 3,695 Danish children and adults with asthma, including a number of children under the age of six.
Lead researcher Dr Hakon Hakonarson, from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (Chop) in the US, said: "Because asthma is a complex disease, with multiple interacting causes, we concentrated on a specific phenotype - severe, recurrent asthma occurring between ages two and six.
"Identifying a risk-susceptibility gene linked to this phenotype may lead to more effective, targeted treatments for this type of childhood asthma."
With mortality 50% higher than the EU average, and hospital admissions significantly more common than elsewhere in the developed world, most people working in respiratory disease today will recognise that there is considerable scope for improving asthma care in this country.
We hope that, by outlining priority areas for quality improvement, this new quality standard document will mark a significant step towards the kind of world-class care everyone working in the industry wants for the four and a half million people living with asthma across England.
We're delighted that a quality standard is now in place for asthma. This will really help to improve the quality of care provided for one of the most common long-term conditions - so its no exaggeration to say that if this is successful, it could change millions of lives.
We're particularly pleased to see the inclusion of personal asthma action plans. People who have an action plan are four times less likely to need to be admitted to hospital, but only a tiny proportion of people with asthma are currently offered one. Making sure this is implemented will be the next key test of asthma care in the NHS.
– Emily Humphreys, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Asthma UK
Asthma is a long-term, inflammatory disorder which affecting the airways. Allergic asthma is the most common type and is triggered by antibodies produced in response to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or moulds.
There are currently more than 5.4 million people in the UK being treated for asthma and about 1.1 million of them are children. There were 1,131 deaths from asthma in the UK in 2009 (12 were children aged 14 years or under), which is, on average, 3 people per day.
When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways, the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell.
Sometimes, sticky mucus or phlegm builds up, which can further narrow the airways.
These reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated - making it difficult to breath and leading to symptoms of asthma.