BEING born prematurely can triple a baby’s risk of developing childhood asthma, new research has shown.
The link between preterm birth and asthma, or wheezing conditions, is higher than was previously thought, a study suggests.
Asthma is already the most common chronic disease in childhood, affecting about 8 per cent of babies born after a normal-length pregnancy.
With increasing numbers of babies surviving premature birth, childhood asthma is set to become a significant health problem, say scientists.
An estimated 11 per cent of children are now born pre-term.
The research showed that average asthma rates rose to 14 per cent in babies born prematurely, defined as at least three weeks early.
Those born more than three weeks before the usual 40-week pregnancy term were almost 50 per cent more likely than full-term babies to develop asthma. And babies born more than two months early were three times more at risk.
The findings, published in the online journal Public Library of Science Medicine, also suggest that children born prematurely do not outgrow their vulnerability to asthma.
The risk of developing asthmatic symptoms was the same for both pre-school and school-age children.
Study leader Jasper Been, from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, said: “Doctors and parents need to be aware of the increased risks of asthma in premature babies, in order to make early diagnosis and intervention possible.
“By changing the way we monitor and treat children born preterm, we hope to decrease the future risks of serious breathing problems, including asthma. Our findings should help find better ways to prevent and treat asthma and asthma-like symptoms in those born preterm.”
The researchers studied data on about 1.5 million children pooled from 30 studies from six continents. Four of the research papers were from the UK.
Combining the findings of different studies, known as “meta-analysis”, can reveal trends that may otherwise remain hidden.
Many premature babies experience breathing problems because their lungs are immature.
Previous research has suggested this can lead to asthma, but whether or not it affects long-term risk is still unclear.
Samantha Walker, executive director of research at Asthma UK, said: “This is a robust study providing further evidence that babies born before their due date are at increased risk of childhood asthma. We know that uncontrolled asthma in pregnant women, amongst other things, can increase the risk of premature birth, which reinforces the need for good asthma management during pregnancy.
“Standard asthma medicine is very safe to use in pregnancy, and by far the most important way to reduce this risk is for pregnant women to take their medication as prescribed. Other things to bear in mind are maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and avoiding stress, smoking and infections.”
Source: The Australian
Comment: The last sentence tells a story: It is amazing how often the ‘lifestyle’ factors are introduced, almost as a throwaway comment, in concluding comments from the establishment about health issues. It is a common feature to all health issues, and a holistically-oriented lifestyle.
Yet this report raises two questions. The first is a common one: As we push the boundaries with medicine and technology, what are we adding to our health problems in a social sense, and what are the ethical issues here?
The second is the nature of asthma and its management. The report takes a very conventional view, supporting the safety of medications. But is there more here to tell us about asthma generally and from a psychological perspective? An interesting study would be to see whether childhood born at full term who develop asthma have problems in being nurtured, such as how long they are breast-fed, and their nutritional status prior to onset?