Asthma is the leading serious chronic illness in children. More than 6 million children suffer from asthma in the United States alone. Steps parents take before their baby’s birth and during the first year of life appear remarkably effective at preventing childhood asthma, even among those kids otherwise most likely to get it.
The Canadian Childhood Asthma Primary Prevention Study has now followed hundreds of babies out to 7 years of age. The results appear in the July 2005 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. All of the babies in the study were at high risk of developing asthma because of their close family members with asthma and allergies.
For half of the babies in the study, the parents received detailed coaching for decreasing asthma risk. Researchers instructed parents to reduce dust mite exposure by using hypoallergenic covers on parents’ and babies’ mattresses, by weekly hot water washing of all bedding, and by benzyl benzoate cleaning of carpets and upholstery before birth and at 4 and 8 months old. Parents were encouraged to eliminate tobacco smoke exposure to their babies. They were encouraged to avoid pets (I’m not sure whether this helped or hurt). They were also encouraged to breastfeed for at least 4 months, and preferably throughout the first year. If formula was used at any time, it was to be a partially hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic formula. And introduction of solid foods was to be delayed until at least 6 months of age.
This sounds like a lot of work and expense – but perhaps less work and expense than caring for a child with asthma. Parents were variably successful at carrying out the interventions.
Nevertheless, those kids in the coaching group for the first year were a dramatic 56 percent less likely to have asthma at age 7 than their otherwise matched peers. Developing asthma depends on a combination of genetic tendencies and environmental triggers.
Lifestyle changes can make a big difference!