Kids whose lungs react sensitively to cold air may be at increased risk for asthma later in life, new research shows.
A team from the University of Arizona found that children whose lungs were very sensitive to cold, dry air at age 6 were twice as likely to develop asthma by the time they reached the age of 22.
“This suggests that there is something going on in these children’s lungs at an early age that increases their risk of having asthma later in life. We need to find out what biological characteristics these children have, so that we can start developing preventive treatments,” researcher Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of the Arizona Respiratory Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in a prepared statement.
For the study, researchers tested 450 children, average age 6, to determine if their lung function was affected by cold, dry air. The participants were tested again when they were 22 years old. Children whose lungs were very sensitive to cold air — a reaction called “bronchial hyperresponsiveness” (BHR) — were more likely to develop asthma at a later age, even if they didn’t have any symptoms of asthma at age 6.
While it’s known that BHR is a central feature of asthma, it hasn’t been clear how early in life it becomes established.
“By the time a child has developed symptoms of asthma, and we try to intervene, the boat has left the port,” Martinez said. “We’ve shown that there are markers for increased risk of asthma in the lungs by age 6. We don’t know exactly what’s going on in the lungs yet, but the findings give us hope that one day, we will be able to intervene early, before a child’s asthma develops.”
The findings were expected to be presented Tuesday at the American Thoracic Society’s international conference, in San Diego.