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While plenty of people experience nasal congestion in response to allergens or as part of a persistent winter cold, those who have chronic nasal congestion could unknowingly be suffering from asthma.

According to a new study out of Sweden, chronic congestion, nasal polyps and even a poor sense of smell can be signs of asthma, yet many sufferers go undiagnosed.

Dr. Jan Lotvall, of the University of Gothenburg Krefting Research Center, says approximately 2 percent of the population of West Sweden shows signs of severe asthma.

His research was recently published in the journal Respiratory Research and followed some 30,000 randomly selected subjects, tracking their experience of things like nasal congestion and runny nose. Lotvall says his study shows that asthma is more common than medical researchers previously believed, and that health-care providers need to be more vigilant in assessing patients with potential asthma symptoms and diagnosing it.

“These findings suggest that some parts of the immune system that are activated in connection with chronic nasal problems might be linked to severe asthma,” Lotvall says, “and this insight could lead to new forms of treatment in the long run.”

Typically, asthma is diagnosed when patients come to their doctors complaining of symptoms like wheezing, persistent coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest or trouble sleeping due to coughing and wheezing.

But the work of Lotvall’s research team shows there may be less obvious symptoms of the disease. Lotvall told AOL Health Tuesday morning that 60 percent of the subjects in his study who suffered from asthma also had some kind of nasal disease. “With those exhibiting severe asthma, 30 percent are associated with clear signs of more severe nasal disease,” he adds.

Lotvall believes his team’s research is going to help identify more subgroups of asthma sufferers as well as identify new risk factors and the relationship between asthma and other chronic conditions like rhinitis (stuffy nose). He urges doctors to be more vigilant in watching for asthma symptoms in their patients.

“If symptoms occur overnight, this is a sign of more severe expression of the disease,” he points out. “If someone has any nasal symptoms or seems to have a blocked nose, and expresses any symptoms of breathlessness, asthma should be considered.”

If left untreated, asthma has the potential to significantly impact the sufferer’s ability to participate in recreational activities as well as his or her ability to sleep. Asthma can also permanently narrow the bronchial tubes.

“Asthma is, in fact, a syndrome incorporating many distinct disease entities,” Lotvall says. “And when we can identify these, we will also be able to treat asthma more efficiently and perhaps even cure some patients.”

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