How well your parents handled stress when you were a baby may have had something to do with whether you developed asthma later, a new study concludes.
Experts say they believe that a number of factors are responsible for asthma, ranging from genes to environmental factors. One group of researchers has now found that a child’s early psychological environment may also play a role.
The researchers studied 150 children from shortly before birth until age 8 to see who developed asthma. All of the children’s mothers had asthma and some of the fathers did too, which means the children studied were already more likely to develop asthma than others.
By age 8, 28% of the kids had asthma. Two elements of their infant history and experience seemed to play roles, says study author Mary D. Klinnert, PhD, associate faculty member at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver and associate professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The study appears in the October 4 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Those children who had higher-than-normal levels of an antibody called IgE that is linked to allergies were more likely to develop asthma than others. And children whose parents were judged to be having “parenting difficulties” when the child was 3 weeks old were also found to be more at risk.
Klinnert stresses that the “parenting difficulties” had nothing to do with poor parenting. The phrase actually has to do with how parents are dealing with the demands of parenthood and the emotions–like stress–that they may be experiencing, she says.
These findings should not be used to blame parents–far from it, Klinnert says. “Rather, they should reinforce the importance of providing support and education to new parents and their children,” she says. “It’s important for parents to know that the environment in the first year is important for many reasons.”
The first months of a child’s life do seem to play an important role in whether asthma develops, agrees Ken Adams, PhD, chief of the asthma and inflammation section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We’re getting a picture–that early life events are very important,” Adams says. He says that he thinks that a combination of both genetic and environmental influences is responsible.
Adams says that any research that tries to understand what sets the stage for asthma is important. That’s because the goal of such research, in general, is to keep asthma from developing in the first place. “Ultimately, we’re striving for asthma prevention,” he says, and studies like the one from Klinnert’s group are a step toward that.
“I think these kinds of studies are very important. They’re beginning to give us some insight as to what leads to asthma onset, and if we can understand those factors then there’s a good chance we can devise strategies” to prevent it, Adams says.
Article By: Erin King, Medical Writer