Children who suffer with asthma and episodes of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath are likely to fall prey to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in early adulthood, new research says.
COPD is a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe.
"For people barely into adulthood, having COPD is terrible. As the COPD evolves, they are likely to have health problems that will make it difficult to participate in normal day-to-day responsibilities such as holding a job," said Scott T Weiss from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in the US.
In most cases, childhood asthma resolves with time, but as many as 20 percent of children with asthma will go on to have potentially severe symptoms in adulthood.
"Children who had low lung function at the start of the trial followed a series of predicted growth patterns: most had reduced lung growth with time and a significant number would go on to meet the criteria for COPD," Weiss added.
In addition, the results showed that outcomes for male children were worse, a likely consequence of higher asthma prevalence in boys.
Among the participants, 75 percent of the children with persistent asthma displayed an early decline in lung function and/or reduced lung growth, by early adulthood. Treatment did not change these patterns.
In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team followed 684 participants in the Childhood Asthma Management Program (CAMP) from ages 5-12 untill they were at least 23 years old.
By the end of the study, 11 percent met the criteria for COPD.
With this understanding, physicians need to identify at-risk children earlier and counsel them about potential preventative measures.
"Since asthma itself is a risk factor for developing COPD, these patients should be advised against risk related environmental exposures, like smoking, that could intensify their symptoms and increase their COPD risk," Weiss noted.