Children Born Early Faced Later Breathing Issues

Asthma and wheezing were more common among premature infants

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Babies born before their due date often have multiple health problems because they are not fully developed. And it seems their problems often don’t end there.

Even years later, they were more likely than babies born full-term to have asthma or wheezing disorders, a new study showed.

"Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your child being born prematurely."

In a meta-analysis led by Dr. Jasper Been of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, researchers found that the earlier a child entered into the world, the more likely he or she was to have issues related to their breathing as they got older.

These researchers looked at 30 studies involving 1.5 million children from six continents. They analyzed studies which took place from 1995 to the present.

They found that while 8.3 percent of babies born at term developed asthma or wheezing disorders, 13.7 percent of premature infants developed such conditions.

Premature infants are considered to be those born before 37 weeks of gestation.

The risk was particularly high for children born before 32 weeks of gestation.

The estimated population-attributable risk of a preterm infant developing asthma was 3.1 percent; so if no children were born prematurely, there would be 3.1 percent fewer wheezing or asthma disorders in children.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease affecting children. It is an inflammation of the airways, and can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. These children are likely to experience symptoms if exposed to allergens, such as fur or smoke. They are also prone to breathing issues due to exercise, cold air or infections.

While the study's authors noted that they don’t know exactly why preterm infants were more likely to develop wheezing or asthma, the most common complication associated with preterm births was respiratory distress syndrome. The lungs of babies born early were usually immature compared to babies who developed to term.

Children born earlier than 32 weeks have about a three-time higher risk for developing asthma or wheezing disorders than children born at full-term.

The study authors acknowledged that preterm infants may share unknown characteristics placing them at risk for asthma or wheezing disorders. Their study also lacked data from lower or middle-income countries.

These authors wrote that “given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions.”

Worldwide, 11 percent of babies are born prematurely.

This study was published January 28 in PLOS Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal of biological science.

Study co-author Aziz Sheikh is a member of the editorial board of PLOS Medicine. The authors did not mention any other conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 10, 2014
Last Updated:
March 11, 2014