childhood asthma

The focus of our news round-up this month is on childhood asthma - how an allergy relief products can improve asthma symptoms, the risks of low birth weight, the benefits of breast-feeding, and how asthma is linked to chronic lung disease in later life.

Exposing children suffering with asthma to second-hand smoke makes their asthma worse. Second-hand smoke also increases the risk of ear infections, bronchitis and other lung infections in children. Obviously, the best way of preventing childhood asthma and protecting children from the dangers is to quit, but sometimes family members are unable to or unwilling to do so. Researchers in the United States have discovered that using an air purifier can protect children with asthma from the dangers of second-hand smoke. In this study 126 children suffering with asthma living with a smoker were divided into three groups. One group used an asthma air purifier, the second group used an air purifier and also had access to a health coach, and the third group received neither and acted as a control. After six months, there was a 50% fall in the amount of dust, smoke and particulate matter in the air of the homes of families who used the air purifier. The children in these homes reported more days free of asthma symptoms. Access to a health coach did not, however, result in further improvement.

The cause of asthma in children is influenced by birth weight. A new study of extremely low birth weight children (less than 2 pounds 3 ounces) showed that the rate of current asthma did not change between ages 8 and 14, being 23% at both ages. For children of normal birth weight, current asthma rates increase from 8% at age 8 to 17% at age 14. The differences reflect the underlying differences in asthma causes. For premature babies, childhood asthma is linked to abnormal and incomplete lung development. While in normal birth weight children, childhood asthma tends to result from a genetic susceptibility interacting with environmental factors. Low birth weight children have a higher risk of many chronic diseases, including asthma, and their health therefore should be monitored closely throughout childhood and adolescence.

Previous research has suggested that breast-feeding protects children from developing asthma. A new report from researchers in The Netherlands goes further by linking the time and exclusivity of breast-feeding to asthma risk. They collected information on how more than 5,000 children were fed during the first year of life. The children were examined each year until the age of four, and any asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath, were recorded. Children who were never breast-fed were more likely to develop such symptoms than those who were breast-fed for more than six months. Moreover, those fed other milk, or solids, in addition to breast-feeding in the first four months, were more likely to develop asthma symptoms than those who were exclusively breast-fed during this time. This means that official advice, to breast-feed a baby for at least six months, is still the right advice when it comes to reducing the risk of asthma.

And finally, severe asthma in childhood increases the risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in later life, according to research presented at a recent American Thoracic Society meeting. As part of the Melbourne Asthma Study, patients were followed from age 7 to age 50. Having severe asthma as a child increased the risk of COPD by a factor of 32 compared to not having asthma. Mild childhood asthma was not linked to an increased risk of COPD.

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