Asthma

Updated 13 May 2013

Early wheezing tied to childhood asthma risk

Certain genetic factors and wheezing early in life are associated with a greatly increased risk of asthma in children, a new study says.

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Certain genetic factors and wheezing early in life are associated with a greatly increased risk of asthma in children, a new study says.

Researchers examined data from nearly 500 children and found that about 90% of those who had two copies of a common genetic variation and who also experienced wheezing when they had a cold early in life developed asthma by age 6.

These children, all from families with a history of asthma or allergies, were nearly four times more likely to develop asthma than those who did not have the genetic variation and did not wheeze, according the study.

The genetic variation is found on chromosome 17 and is common. Half of the children in the study had one copy and 25% had two copies. The researchers also noted that colds are extremely common and affect nearly all infants.

The increased risk is associated with wheezing during colds caused by a human rhinovirus infection, the University of Chicago Medical Center researchers said.

'A huge effect'

"We found that the interaction between this specific wheezing illness and a gene or genes on a region of chromosome 17 determines childhood asthma risk," study author Carole Ober, a professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, said in a medical center news release.

"The combination of genetic predisposition and the child's response to this infection has a huge effect."

The researchers said it is not clear how this gene variation and wheezing interact to increase the risk of developing asthma. It also should be noted that the research showed only an association between them, and not a cause-and-effect relationship.

About 25% of children who had no wheezing from a human rhinovirus infection developed asthma, and 40% of those who experienced wheezing in the first three years of life but lacked the risk-related gene variants developed asthma.

That rose to nearly 60% among those with one copy of the gene variant and to 90% for those with two copies.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about children and asthma.

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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