Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulties, and it is generally accepted that attacks are brought on by inflamed airways, but the actual spark for the inflammation is not known, nor is the reason why some people contract asthma while others do not.
"Perhaps asthma as a symptom is really only the clinical manifestation of several distinct diseases," said The Lancet article. "Rather than confusing scientists, doctors and patients even further, is it not time to step out of the straight jacket of a seemingly unifying name that has outlived its usefulness?"
The article went on to explain that asthma can have a multitude of triggers, symptoms and treatments, providing more evidence that it is inappropriate to label it as a single disease.
"The Lancet article raises some interesting points; asthma is indeed a complex ailment," said Dr. Andrew Miller, a spokesman for the British Lung Foundation. "But whether this is a good enough reason to abandon a useful name which encompasses a range of symptoms treated in a similar way is not yet clear."
Natural health advocate Mike Adams found the announcement intriguing. "It's both refreshing and curious to see anyone in conventional medicine finally admitting that asthma isn't a disease at all, but rather just a name given to a variety of symptoms," he said. "This indicates the beginning of an important paradigm shift in medicine, where a few of the brightest thinkers are beginning to realize that calling symptoms diseases is a disservice to patients and doctors alike. It's time we stopped treating symptoms and started examining the underlying causes of conditions like asthma, ADHD, osteoporosis and even cancer," Adams said.
Currently, experts claim that approximately 300 million people have asthma worldwide -- a number expected to reach 400 million by 2025. One in 250 deaths is caused by it, and children with allergies are more likely to develop the condition. The Lancet noted that there has been an increase in childhood allergies across the globe.
"Until the 19th century fever was regarded as a disease and maybe in 20, 30 or 50 years' time we will look back at asthma in the same way," said the editorial.