Asthma is a tremendous problem that dramatically affects the quality of life of many Americans. In fact, severe asthma attacks can be fatal. The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that as many as 25 million Americans suffer from this condition. About 28% of them are children.
Recent research from Tucson reported in Pediatrics suggests that children who develop pneumonia during their first three years are much more likely to develop asthma as they age. This correlation was quite striking with teens and adults having nearly double the risk of asthma or wheezing.
While this correlation is not absolute, and many adults who had pneumonia do not go on to develop asthma, enough of the people studied did to warrant concern. The researchers found that such patients have damage to the windpipe that leaves the lungs particularly susceptible to infection. It is particularly important for survivors of childhood pneumonia to avoid smoking, since their respiratory system is already likely to have some damage.
The study was part of the long-term Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study that involved nearly 1,250 people born between 1980 and 1984. The researchers recorded all cases of lower respiratory illness that occurred during the children’s first three years. They followed up with all of the participants to see whether they had pneumonia during that time, another type of respiratory problem, or no issues at all.
The parents of young participants completed asthma questionnaires until their children were 16 years old. At that point, the individuals completed their own questionnaires until they turned 29. The researchers also gave allergy exams when the children were six years old and documented smoking histories starting when the teenagers turned 16. They also assessed lung function with a spirometry exam at various ages.
While the researchers found a strong correlation between the incidence of pneumonia at a young age and the development of asthma, they cautioned that the children who developed this disease may have already had compromised lung function that predisposed them to getting pneumonia.
In any case, this research strongly suggests that people who had pneumonia as children should be closely screened for respiratory problems such as COPD or asthma.