Do early-life risk factors contribute to the development of lung disease?

A summary of research published in ERJ Open Research

A new study has shed light on the origins of lung conditions and the risk factors that contribute to them through the years.

The study looked at people with two different kinds of issues affecting how the lungs work:

  • Restrictive lung function – when people have trouble fully filling their lungs with air.
  • Obstructive lung function – when people find it hard to blow out all the air in their lungs.

These two different types of lung function issues can be identified by having a spirometry test and can be an early sign of different lung conditions. The number of people identified with these issues when taking a spirometry test has been well-studied in adults, but this is the first research to assess whether children have restrictive or obstructive lung function and to consider what risk factors affect them.


What did the study look at?

Researchers used information from over 49,000 children and young people aged between 5 and 25 years who had taken part in various research studies. They looked at lung function measurements taken over the years and any reported lung conditions from childhood to adulthood. The researchers aimed to understand whether people with lower levels of lung function in early life were likely to go on to develop a lung condition, and what impact certain risk factors had on this development.

What do the results show?

The findings suggest that both these lung function issues can appear at any age. This supports the theory that lung conditions can develop early in life.

When looking at the risk factors, the results found that people with asthma, people who were born prematurely, people whose birthing parent smoked during pregnancy and those with a family history of asthma, were more likely to have obstructive lung function. People with obstructive lung function were also more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) or be current smokers. Only a low BMI was linked with restrictive lung function issues. This suggests that the two types of lung function stem from different risk factors.

Why is this important?

This study was able to combine results from multiple research studies to understand the levels of lung function problems seen in children and track these through to the adult years. This allows us to understand when lung function issues first appear and what might have an impact on them.

Read the original research paper:

Title: Spirometric phenotypes from early childhood to young adulthood: A CADSET (Chronic Airway Disease Early Stratification) study