Up to 150,000 people in the UK suffering severe asthma could benefit from taking antifungal medication already available from chemists, a study shows.

Scientists at the University of Manchester found that pills used to treat everyday fungal infections greatly improved symptoms of asthma in those patients that had an allergic reaction to one or more fungi.

The study, done at four hospitals in England, and published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, is the first to show that antifungal therapy can improve the symptoms of those who suffer from the effects of severe asthma, including a runny nose, sneezing and hayfever-like complaints.

Researchers compared the oral antifungal drug Itraconazole with a placebo over eight months and found nearly 60 per cent of patients taking the drug showed significant improvement.

"We believe that antifungal therapy may be helpful in as many as 150,000 adults with asthma in the UK," said Professor David Denning.