Children who grow up in dysfunctional home environments, such as those where caregivers who have mental illness, violent tendencies, or substance abuse problems, have an increased risk for asthma.
According to study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, children who experience more than one such adverse childhood experience, or ACE, are 28 percent more likely to develop the respiratory disease that affects nearly 7 million children in the United States.
Previous research has shown that childhood stress is linked to the development of asthma, but many studies looked at neighborhood or socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, housing quality, or environmental exposures.
Narrowing the focus, Brown University researchers drew from the National Survey of Children’s Health, looking at the data of more than 92,000 children (under age 18) to assess the connection between childhood asthma and issues within the home. Researchers defined ACEs as the following: having a parent or guardian with a mental illness, drug or alcohol problems, who has served jail time, is divorced or separated, is violently abusive, or has passed away.
“The data showed that the more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) a child is exposed to, the greater the probability he or she will develop asthma,” said lead study author Dr. Robyn Wing, a pediatric emergency physician at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School.
The key points of the study are as follows:
- 31% of the children sampled were exposed to at least one ACE.
- The most common ACE experienced by children sampled was living with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated.
- 25% of the children who had been exposed to five or more ACEs, had diagnosed asthma.
- 12% of children with no ACE exposure had asthma – a significantly lower rate.
Wing explains that these results make sense biologically. Stress causes physical symptoms and research now indicates that acute or chronic stress can change how our brain prompts the creation of hormones – which can cause lifelong health issues.
“My hope is that through this study and others like it, clinicians have a more complete understanding of asthma and might be able to better target preventive medications and interventions,” Wing told Allergic Living. “This is certainly yet another reason for physicians and caregivers of children to really take the time to ask about the child’s home situation.”
She encourages all medical professionals to practice careful history taking, especially for children who may already be prone to asthma due to genetic or other factors.