A worldwide study of more than 1.5 million children found that the risk of developing asthma, or asthma-like symptoms, after a preterm birth is higher than previously thought.
In addition, the risks of developing asthmatic symptoms are the same for preschool and school-age children, indicating that children born prematurely do not outgrow the risk, a release by the University of Edinburgh said on Wednesday.
According to a study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine, those youngsters born more than three weeks before the usual 40-week pregnancy were almost 50% more likely than full-term babies to develop asthma, while those born more than two months early were three times more at risk. And premature babies will not outgrow their vulnerability to asthma, according to the research.
The risk of developing asthmatic symptoms was the same for pre-school and school-age children. The findings reinforce the importance of asthma travel insurance for parents taking children with the condition on overseas trips.
Dr Jasper Been, of the University of Edinburgh, said doctors and parents must be aware of the risks of asthma in premature babies in order to intervene and improve their health.
He said that by changing the way children born pre-term are monitored, it is hoped the future risks of serious breathing problems such as asthma are reduced. His team looked at data from 1.5 million children from across six continents, looking at 30 studies. Four of these studies were conducted in the UK.
This meta-analysis of several different studies can help reveal larger trends which may have been otherwise hidden. Many premature babies suffer from asthma as their lungs are not as fully developed at birth – but while other studies show this can lead to asthma, it is not clear whether it affects long-term risks of the condition.
Dr Samantha Walker, executive director of research at Asthma UK, said: “This is a robust study providing further evidence that babies born before their due date are at increased risk of childhood asthma. We know that uncontrolled asthma in pregnant women, amongst other things, can increase the risk of premature birth, which reinforces the need for good asthma management during pregnancy.
“Standard asthma medicine is very safe to use in pregnancy, and by far the most important way to reduce this risk is for pregnant women to take their medication as prescribed. Other things to bear in mind are maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and avoiding stress, smoking and infections.”