Medical News Today: Adverse childhood experiences may increase the risk of asthma, study finds

Adverse childhood experiences may increase the risk of asthma, study finds

Last updated: Thursday 2 April 2015 at 1am PST

Being exposed to adverse experiences in childhood - such as witnessing domestic violence or drug abuse - could significantly increase the risk of developing asthma. This is the finding of a new study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Children who had witnessed one adverse experience - such as domestic violence - were 28% more likely to develop asthma, the researchers found.

Around 7.1 million children in the US have asthma, making it one of the most common chronic illnesses in childhood. Asthma is also the third leading cause of hospitalization among children aged 15 and under.

While exposure to certain environmental factors - such as cigarette smoke or other air pollution - early airway infections and certain inherited characteristics are believed to contribute to asthma development during childhood, the underlying causes of the condition remain unclear.

For this latest study, lead investigator Dr. Robyn D. Wing and colleagues set out to determine whether adverse childhood experiences were associated with asthma risk.

The team analyzed data from the National Survey of Children's Health, involving more than 92,000 children aged 17 years or under and. 

As part of the survey, parents were asked how often their child had been exposed to any adverse experiences - including witnessing a family member engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence at home, parental separation, living with someone who had been in prison, a family death or living with someone who is mentally ill.

They were also asked about their child's exposure to tobacco smoke, whether the family felt safe in their neighborhood and whether their child had been diagnosed with asthma.

The more adverse experiences a child has, the greater their risk of asthma

The researchers found that 17% of children had witnessed one adverse childhood experience, 3.8% had been exposed to three adverse childhood experiences, while 0.93% had witnessed at least five.

Living with a parent or caregiver who had divorced or separated was the most common adverse experience the children had been exposed to.

Compared with children who had not had any adverse childhood experiences, the team found that those who had one adverse childhood experience were 28% more likely to develop asthma.

What is more, asthma was diagnosed in 12% of children who had no adverse experiences, while 25% of those who had five or more were diagnosed with the condition. "The data showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a child is exposed to, the greater the probability he or she will develop asthma," adds Dr. Wing.

Commenting on these findings, Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, says:

"We know that young children are susceptible to numerous adverse factors that they may be exposed to in the home environment - including cigarette smoking, indoor triggers, and even, as this study shows, dysfunctional families and associated domestic violence.

It is even more important that these high-risk children are identified and cared for by experts in the management of asthma. Board Certified allergists/Immunologists have special training in optimizing the care of children with asthma."

In December 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, in which researchers suggest toddlers who sleep in the same bed as their parents may be more likely to develop asthma.

Written by Honor Whiteman

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