Background: Young children with older siblings and those who attend day care are at increased risk for infections, which in turn may protect against the development of allergic diseases, including asthma. However, the results of studies examining the relation between exposure to other children and the subsequent development of asthma have been conflicting.
Methods: In a study involving 1035 children followed since birth as part of the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study, we determined the incidence of asthma (defined as at least one episode of asthma diagnosed by a physician when the child was 6 to 13 years old) and the prevalence of frequent wheezing (more than three wheezing episodes during the preceding year) in relation to the number of siblings at home and in relation to attendance at day care during infancy.
Results: The presence of one or more older siblings at home protected against the development of asthma (adjusted relative risk for each additional older sibling, 0.8; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.7 to 1.0; P=0.04), as did attendance at day care during the first six months of life (adjusted relative risk, 0.4; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 1.0; P=0.04). Children with more exposure to other children at home or at day care were more likely to have frequent wheezing at the age of 2 years than children with little or no exposure (adjusted relative risk, 1.4; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 1.8; P=0.01) but were less likely to have frequent wheezing from the age of 6 (adjusted relative risk, 0.8; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.6 to 1.0; P=0.03) through the age of 13 (adjusted relative risk, 0.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 0.5; P<0.001).
Conclusions: Exposure of young children to older children at home or to other children at day care protects against the development of asthma and frequent wheezing later in childhood.