Dr. Gerard Criner headed up a national study to see if adding antibiotics to their regular medications could help patients with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study was reported in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
COPD is a progressive disease which makes it difficult to breathe. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
In the multi-center study, patients received regular doses of azithromycin for one year, in addition to their regular medications.
After one year, patients had 20 per cent fewer flare-ups. And that meant many fewer trips to the hospital.
"They're serious, they're difficult to treat. So anything that we could do to prevent this would be a tremendous benefit to the patients," says Dr. Criner.
He says why antibiotics help isn't certain. They may be killing an unseen microbe that plays a role in COPD, or they may act as an anti-inflammatory, calming down irritation in airways.
But Jack Bassler, of Folcroft, Delaware County, is grateful for his research.
Bassler describes COPD as "feeling like an elephant on your chest."
He saw his older brother battle with COPD, going to the hospital time and time again. Eventually, Bassler's brother needed a double-lung transplant. Now that he has been diagnosed, Bassler hopes to avoid the same trouble himself.
"I really don't want to go through what he had to do, if there's anything i can do, you know, to keep me OUT of the hospital," says Bassler.
Dr. Criner has another study underway to see if statin drugs, normally used to lower cholesterol, can also help COPD.