The Cold, Hard Facts About Asthma

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MADISON - Nearly 90 percent of three-year-olds who developed wheezing when ill with a virus that causes most common colds had asthma by age six, according to a long-term study at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).

"The biggest discovery in our study is the timing of wheezing RV (rhinovirus) by age three and its link to childhood asthma," said principal investigator Dr. Robert Lemanske, SMPH professor of pediatrics and medicine. "However, a rhinovirus illness accompanied by wheezing anytime in the first three years of life is linked to an almost ten-fold increase in asthma by the age of six."

Previous research from the Tucson Respiratory Study has shown that the age of three seems to be a milestone in determining how, and for how long, children react to asthma triggers.

In the Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST) study, 300 newborns, with at least one parent with asthma or allergies, were tracked for six years starting in 1998. The children were evaluated for various viral illnesses that were accompanied by wheezing. The group of viruses called "rhinoviruses" is responsible for up to 50 percent of common colds.

"At six years, 28 percent of all the children in the study had developed asthma and those who wheezed with rhinovirus were disproportionately among them," noted Lemanske in the findings, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The journal is published by the American Thoracic Society.

The COAST research team found that kids who wheezed with RV during the first year of life were three times as likely to develop asthma by age six; children who had wheezing RV during their second year were six times more likely; but those who had wheezed with RV at three years were 30 times more likely to develop asthma by age six.

Researchers said they don't know yet if rhinovirus actually causes asthma to develop or if it simply reveals children who are predisposed to the disease. Dr. Daniel Jackson, lead author of the study, said more research is needed to answer those questions.

"Taking it one step further, another critical area of study will be whether or not RV wheezing illnesses in young children increase asthma risks in all children or only in children with a family history of asthma or allergies," said Jackson.

Date Published: 09/30/2008

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