Equine Asthma and Upper Respiratory Issues: What’s the Link?

Horses with equine asthma are more likely to have pharyngeal abnormalities in the upper airway during exercise than their asthma-free counterparts.

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equine asthma
Horses with equine asthma are more likely to have pharyngeal abnormalities in the upper airway during exercise their asthma-free counterparts. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Julie Fjeldborg
Equine asthma (EA) affects the horse’s lower respiratory tract. However, it also seems to be associated with upper respiratory tract problems that become apparent during exercise.

Horses with EA are more likely to have physical abnormalities of the pharynx (an upper airway structure which extends from the rear of the mouth and nasal passages to the larynx and esophagus) during exercise their EA-free counterparts, Polish researchers found in a recent study. That could be because the way air flows through EA horses’ respiratory tracts causes higher negative pressure (pressure that’s lower than the surroundings) on the pharynx. Or it might be that a flawed pharynx is causing horses to inhale food materials, resulting in inflammation that leads to EA.

“There’s still some work left ahead of us to determine what’s causing what,” said Blanka Wysocka, PhD, of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in Poland.

In their study, Wysocka and her colleague carried out upper and lower airway exams—at rest and during work on a treadmill—in 13 horses with EA and 16 horses without. The treadmill allowed them to compare exercise-related conditions in a controlled environment, she said

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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