Chest infections in early life linked with a higher risk of asthma

A summary of research published in the European Respiratory Journal

Children who have chest infections in the first five years of their life have a higher risk of developing asthma by the age of 7, according to new findings.

The study aimed to look at how lung infections – both in the lower and upper airways – had an impact on the immune system and lung function as children grew up.


What did the study look at?

Researchers looked at information from 150,090 children in the EU. They examined whether children had any infections between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old. They then looked at lung function measurements and any diagnosis of asthma between the ages of 4 and 15 years.

What do the results show?

The results found that children who had infections in the lower airways were more likely to have poorer lung function compared to their peers. Lower airway infections are those that affect the lungs and the tubes and air sacs within them – commonly called chest infections.

Children with lower airway infections also had an increased risk of developing asthma compared to those who had infections that only affected the upper airways. Upper airway infections affect the nose, mouth and throat – known as the common cold. Children who experienced upper airway infections also had an increased risk of asthma later in childhood, but not as much as those who had lower respiratory infections.

Why is this important?

These findings shed light on how early life infections can have an impact on the development of the lungs and the immune system. The strongest links were seen between infections in the lower airways. This suggests that these infections could have a direct effect on the development of the lungs and the development of long-term lung conditions later in life.

Read the original research paper

Title: Early-life respiratory tract infections and the risk of school-age lower lung function and asthma: a meta-analysis of 150 000 European children