It has long been known that there is a connection between atopic conditions, including food and airborne allergies, dermatitis and eczema, and asthma. A child who has one of these conditions is more likely to have another, but the connection is thought to be complicated and is still poorly understood. But the results of a recent study of more than 2,000 children may help clarify some aspects of this connection and help pediatricians better predict which children will develop asthma.
Allergies can be confusing, and why they occur in some people and not others and with varying severity is still not understood, even by experts. Sensitization is not the same thing as an allergy, but it is a process that occurs with the immune system that can develop into an allergy. Sensitization occurs when the immune system begins to make antibodies in response to a particular substance, like a food protein.
Sensitization can be determined with a skin prick test, and while it may not indicate if an allergy will ever develop, it can help predict allergies. Recent information from a new study shows that sensitization can also help predict the development of asthma.
The CHILD Study
The recent information on atopic conditions comes from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study. Researchers analyzed health information from 2,311 Canadian children and found that babies with atopic dermatitis, who also showed allergic sensitization, were seven times more likely than other infants to develop asthma by the age of three. Having the two conditions together also made an infant 12 times more likely to develop hay fever.
Not all cases of dermatitis are atopic, but it is a condition that is often assumed to be. If a child shows signs of dermatitis, and also shows signs of allergic sensitization from a skin test, then he or she has true atopic dermatitis. That child then can be said to be at an increased risk for developing asthma, hay fever or both.
The new information from the CHILD study is important because it gives pediatricians and other medical professionals a better way to predict if a child will develop asthma. When an infant or young child shows signs of wheezing when breathing, it is often assumed to be a symptom of a cold, but it could also be asthma, which can be life-threatening but is manageable.
The authors of the CHILD study suggest that physicians should be aware of the risk of asthma in children with dermatitis who show atopy. They hope pediatricians will skin test any infant or child who shows signs of dermatitis or eczema. If the test shows allergic sensitization, there is a high risk that child will eventually have asthma. This could give a pediatrician a chance to talk to the parents about the risk, what to look for and how to manage asthma.
The CHILD study results are just one more clue that helps researchers and physicians figure out how allergies and atopic conditions work and are interconnected. The latest finding is a small piece of the puzzle, but it could have big consequence for children susceptible to asthma.