Do Bronchodilators Help Horses With Equine Asthma?

Researchers set out to determine whether these inhaled medications simply relieve airway constriction for horses with heaves or, more importantly, improve lung function. Here’s what they found.
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Do Bronchodilators Help Horses With Equine Asthma?
Calzetta said bronchodilators can, indeed, improve lung function rather than simply dilating constricted bronchioles. | Photo: iStock
In horses with equine asthma, veterinarians often recommend administering bronchodilators to relieve constriction of the bronchi (the airways into the lungs) caused by muscle contraction or spasm. Such medications include inhaled long-acting bronchodilators such as antimuscarinic agents and b2-adrenoceptor agonists (e.g., albuterol).

Despite the widespread recommendation and use of these medications, one group of Italian researchers recently highlighted the dearth of data showing that bronchodilators improve lung function to ameliorate clinical signs of asthma.

“Robust evidence demonstrates that bronchodilators significantly improve the respiratory mechanics in horses with severe asthma,” said Luigino Calzetta, PhD, from the Unit of Respiratory Medicine in the University of Rome Tor Vergata’s Department of Experimental Medicine. “But whether or not simply improving the airway obstruction actually improves lung function and helps horses ‘breathe easier’ remains unclear.”

To more comprehensively determine bronchodilators’ role in treating equine asthma, Calzetta and colleagues retrospectively reviewed and extracted data from previously published research. In total they identified 33 asthmatic horses in five studies published between 2000 and 2008

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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