Bronchitis during childhood may make lung issues more common in adulthood, study finds

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More severe cases of bronchitis in early life lead to worse outcomes when children grow up

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne explored how childhood health outcomes may linger into adulthood. According to their findings, contracting bronchitis before the age of seven may increase the risk of lung disease and respiratory concerns in middle age. 

“This is the first very long-term prospective study that has examined the relationship between childhood bronchitis severity with adult lung health outcomes,” said researcher Dr. Jennifer Perret.

“We have seen already that children with protracted bacterial bronchitis are at an increased risk of serious chronic infective lung disease after two to five years, so studies like ours are documenting the potential for symptomatic children to develop lung conditions, such as asthma and lung function changes, up to mid-adult life.” 

Long-term respiratory health risks

The researchers analyzed data from over 8,500 people enrolled in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study. They tracked the participants' health outcomes for more than four decades and asked participants about their health histories and current health status. 

The study showed that nearly 48% of the participants had been diagnosed with bronchitis during childhood. The more severe the case of bronchitis was during childhood, the more likely the participants were to be diagnosed with asthma or pneumonia in middle age. 

“Compared with the majority who never had bronchitis, there was an incremental increase in risk for later asthma and pneumonia, which strengthened the more often a person has suffered from bronchitis as a child, and especially if they had recurrent episodes which were prolonged for at least one month in duration,” Dr. Perret said. 

“It is notable that the link with later adult active asthma was seen for participants who did not have co-existent asthma or wheezing in childhood, and a similar finding has been recently seen in a very large meta-analysis of school-aged children who had had a lower respiratory tract infection during early childhood.” 

Knowing that respiratory health during childhood can have lasting effects into adulthood, the researchers hope more medical professionals pay close attention to their young patients who struggle with lung health. 

“Collectively, these findings provide novel insights into the potential natural history of severe bronchitis in children,” the researchers wrote. “Importantly, they support initiatives to enhance awareness among primary care physicians to promote the timely diagnosis and management of protracted episodes of cough in children with close monitoring for subsequent development of asthma and other complications such as bronchiectasis.” 

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