The Asthma-Shingles Connection

Asthma in childhood may increase shingles risk

(RxWiki News) Ever had chickenpox? If so, you're at risk of shingles. But you may be at an even higher risk if you also have this common condition.

In a new study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic linked childhood asthma to an increased risk of herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. This itchy, painful rash is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body.

Anyone who previously had chickenpox can develop shingles — even young children. However, it is more common among older adults. Nearly 1 million shingles cases occur every year in the US, with an estimated one-third of all US adults affected by age 80. Despite the prevalence of shingles, it is still unclear why some people develop shingles and others do not.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that narrows and inflames the airways, making breathing difficult.

"Asthma represents one of the five most burdensome chronic diseases in the U.S., affecting up to 17 percent of the population," said lead study author Young Juhn, MD, a pediatrician and asthma epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Research Center, in a press release. "The effect of asthma on the risk of infection or immune dysfunction might very well go beyond the airways."

For this study, Dr. Juhn and team compared 371 shingles patients, with an average age of 67, to 742 control patients. All lived in Olmsted County, MN.

Of the shingles patients, 23 percent had asthma — compared to 15 percent of the control patients. This translates to about a 70 percent greater risk of developing shingles among the patients with asthma than those without.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, was also tied to a higher risk of shingles in these patients. Shingles occurred in 12 percent of the patients with atopic dermatitis versus 8 percent of the control patients.

While the mechanisms behind these findings are still unclear, Dr. Juhn and team said that, because asthma suppresses adaptive immunity, it may increase the risk of viral infections like shingles.

This study was published online Dec. 28 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
December 29, 2015