Bronchitis in Childhood Tied to Worse Lung Health in Adulthood

By Reuters Staff

September 14, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children who suffer a bout of bronchitis at least once before their seventh birthday are at increased risk for developing lung problems such as asthma and pneumonia later in life, a study suggests.

"Our findings strengthen the evidence that adult lung disease can originate in early childhood and that childhood bronchitis may adversely affect lung health in middle age," Dr. Jennifer Perret of the University of Melbourne, Australia, said in a statement from the European Respiratory Society Virtual International Congress, where she presented her research September 9.

Dr. Perret and her team analyzed the association between childhood bronchitis and lung problems in middle-aged adults participating in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study, which has been following more than 8,500 people born in Tasmania in 1961.

When they joined the study as children, their lung function was assessed and their parents provided information on whether the children had suffered asthma or bronchitis by age seven. The participants have been followed for an average of 46 years.

The researchers categorized 3,085 study participants into four groups based on parent-reported childhood bronchitis at age seven years:

- no bronchitis (n=1,616, 53%)

- non-recurrent bronchitis, with one to five episodes lasting less than a month (n=873, 28%)

- recurrent bronchitis, with at least six episodes lasting less than a month (n=555, 18%)

- protracted recurrent bronchitis, with six or more episodes lasting a month or more (n=41, 1.3%)

Compared with the "no bronchitis before age seven" reference group, people who had non-recurrent, recurrent or protracted recurrent episodes of bronchitis as children had a 1.4-fold, 2-fold and 3.2-fold increased risk of pneumonia, respectively, by the time they reached the average age of 53. They also had a 1.3-fold, 2.7-fold and 6.4-fold increased risk of ever having asthma, respectively.

According to a conference statement, roughly 14 out of every 100 people in the reference group were diagnosed with pneumonia by middle age, compared with 19, 25 and 35 in every 100 in the non-recurrent, recurrent or protracted recurrent bronchitis groups, respectively.

In the reference group, 19 in every 100 had an asthma diagnosis by middle age, compared with 33, 50 and 70 in every 100 in the non-recurrent, recurrent or protracted recurrent bronchitis groups, respectively.

"The associations with asthma and pneumonia strengthened with increasing severity of childhood bronchitis," Dr. Perret said in the statement. "However, there was no statistically significant link between childhood bronchitis and chronic bronchitis in middle-age. This was an unexpected finding and further study would be informative. We are currently exploring these associations."

In the statement, Dr. Chris Brightling, European Respiratory Society Science Council Chair, said: "This is a well-conducted and long-running study that provides important information on how childhood illness can have long-term consequences. The researchers show that there is an association between suffering bronchitis as a child and a risk of pneumonia and asthma by the age of 53 and that the risk of worse lung health in middle-age increased with increasing severity of childhood bronchitis. These findings may enable doctors to identify patients who may need more careful monitoring and earlier interventions in order to keep them in good health."

SOURCE: European Respiratory Society Virtual International Congress 2020.


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