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Warning over childhood asthma risk

30 January 2014 09:12

A baby's chances of childhood asthma triple if it is born prematurely, according to a new study

A baby's chances of childhood asthma triple if it is born prematurely, according to a new study

A baby's chances of childhood asthma can be tripled if it is born prematurely, research shows.

The link between pre-term birth and asthma is higher than previously thought, with around 8% of children born after a normal length pregnancy affected. This makes it the most common chronic disease in childhood.

With increasing numbers of babies surviving premature delivery, childhood asthma will become a significant health problem. More than one in 10 babies are now born pre-term, with average asthma rates rising to 14% in babies who were born prematurely (three weeks early or more).

According to a study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine, those youngsters born more than three weeks before the usual 40-week pregnancy were almost 50% more likely than full-term babies to develop asthma, while those born more than two months early were three times more at risk. And premature babies will not outgrow their vulnerability to asthma, according to the research.

The risk of developing asthmatic symptoms was the same for pre-school and school-age children. The findings reinforce the importance of asthma travel insurance for parents taking children with the condition on overseas trips.

Dr Jasper Been, of the University of Edinburgh, said doctors and parents must be aware of the risks of asthma in premature babies in order to intervene and improve their health.

He said that by changing the way children born pre-term are monitored, it is hoped the future risks of serious breathing problems such as asthma are reduced. His team looked at data from 1.5 million children from across six continents, looking at 30 studies. Four of these studies were conducted in the UK.

This meta-analysis of several different studies can help reveal larger trends which may have been otherwise hidden. Many premature babies suffer from asthma as their lungs are not as fully developed at birth - but while other studies show this can lead to asthma, it is not clear whether it affects long-term risks of the condition.

Dr 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."