People who wheeze in childhood could be most at risk of developing lung disease in adult life, according to a long-term study.
Researchers at Britain’s Southampton General Hospital and the David Hide Centre on the Isle of Wight found that almost 60 per cent of children who started wheezing during infancy and continued until the age of 10 – known as persistent wheezing – were still affected at 18 and had significantly impaired lung function.
The condition, which is recognised by a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs with a narrowing of the airways, is common among children from around the age of three, but most outgrow it before adolescence.
Dr Claire Hodgekiss, a clinical fellow in asthma and allergy based at the David Hide Centre, said: “Until recently, wheezing during infancy was not thought to be associated with any significant respiratory health risks in adulthood.
“However, using our large group of long-term research patients, we’ve discovered wheeze can transcend adolescence into young adulthood and cause airway disease at 18 years, which is a new finding.”
Led by allergy specialists Professor Hasan Arshad and Dr Ramesh Kurukulaaratchy at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, the team studied the effects of the breathing complaint in 1,456 patients who were recruited at birth in 1989.
They reviewed the patients at the ages of one, two, four, 10 and 18 and took a wheeze recording at each visit.
Persistent wheezers had significantly worse lung function – taking in the force of their breath, capacity and airflow through the lungs, inflammation and narrowing in the airways – at 18 compared to those who had not wheezed in the first decade of life.
They also found that 62 per cent of persistent wheezers suffered from more than one common allergic disease, such as eczema, hay fever or asthma, and that the prevalence of current smoking among the group (44.4 per cent) was almost double that of non-wheezers (24 per cent) at 18.