Background: Incidence of asthma increases during early adulthood. We aimed to estimate the contributions of sex and early life factors to asthma diagnosed in young adults.
Methods: 1246 healthy newborn babies were enrolled in the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study. Parental characteristics, early-life wheezing phenotypes, airway function, and bronchial hyper-responsiveness to cold dry air and sensitisation to Alternaria alternata were determined before age 6 years. Physician-diagnosed asthma, both chronic and newly diagnosed, and airway function were recorded at age 22 years.
Findings: Of 1246 babies enrolled, 849 had follow-up data at 22 years. Average incidence of asthma at age 16-22 years was 12.6 per thousand person-years. 49 (27%) of all 181 cases of active asthma at 22 years were newly diagnosed, of which 35 (71%) were women. Asthma remittance by 22 years was higher in men than in women (multinomial odds ratio [M-OR] 2.0, 95% CI 1.2-3.2, p=0.008). Age at diagnosis was linearly associated with the ratio of forced expiratory volume at 1 s to forced vital capacity at age 22 years. Factors independently associated with chronic asthma at 22 years included onset at 6 years (7.4, 3.9-14.0) and persistent wheezing (14.0, 6.8-28.0) in early life, sensitisation to A alternata (3.6, 2.1-6.4), low airway function at age 6 years (2.1, 1.1-3.9), and bronchial hyper-responsiveness at 6 years (4.5, 1.9-10.0). Bronchial hyper-responsiveness (6.9, 2.3-21.0), low airway function at 6 years (2.8, 1.1-6.9), and late-onset (4.6, 1.7-12.0) and persistent wheezing (4.0, 1.2-14.0) predicted newly diagnosed asthma at age 22 years.
Interpretation: Asthma with onset in early adulthood has its origins in early childhood.