Childhood Asthma Linked To Early Onset COPD

African American girl with asthma inhaler

Though many children with persistent asthma get better as they get older, some may go on to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in early adulthood, a new study suggests.

People with the poorest lung function and reduced lung growth are most at risk for developing COPD, a chronic progressive condition that makes it hard to breathe, the researchers said.

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“Study participants were children with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma, which places them among the most severe 30 or 40 percent of all childhood asthmatics. Among this group, serious airway obstruction is an early life possibility,” said researcher Michael McGeachie.

“There may be interventions that can help mitigate these risks, although we do not specifically identify any,” said McGeachie, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The investigators noted several limitations to the study. One is that it can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The other is that longer-term follow-up is needed to see how these [lung function] changes affect the children’s health over time. For example, it’s possible that in early adulthood, any declines in lung health may plateau, the study authors suggested.

The report was published May 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, McGeachie and his colleagues followed nearly 700 participants in the Childhood Asthma Management Program. When the study began, the children were between ages 5 and 12. The researchers followed the children until they were at least 23.

Children were randomly assigned to receive one of three inhaled therapies: 200 micrograms of budesonide twice daily, 8 milligrams of nedocromil twice a day, or a placebo, the study authors said. Budesonide is a corticosteroid that’s commonly used as a preventive asthma medication, and nedocromil is a type of medication known as a mast cell stabilizer. It’s also a type of preventive medication for asthma.