Background: Respiratory infections in early life are associated with an increased risk of developing asthma but there is little evidence on the role of infections for onset of asthma in adults. The objective of this study was to assess the relation of the occurrence of respiratory infections in the past 12 months to adult-onset asthma in a population-based incident case-control study of adults 21-63 years of age.
Methods/principal findings: We recruited all new clinically diagnosed cases of asthma (n = 521) during a 2.5-year study period and randomly selected controls (n = 932) in a geographically defined area in South Finland. Information on respiratory infections was collected by a self-administered questionnaire. The diagnosis of asthma was based on symptoms and reversible airflow obstruction in lung function measurements. The risk of asthma onset was strongly increased in subjects who had experienced in the preceding 12 months lower respiratory tract infections (including acute bronchitis and pneumonia) with an adjusted odds ratio (OR) 7.18 (95% confidence interval [CI] 5.16-9.99), or upper respiratory tract infections (including common cold, sinusitis, tonsillitis, and otitis media) with an adjusted OR 2.26 (95% CI 1.72-2.97). Individuals with personal atopy and/or parental atopy were more susceptible to the effects of respiratory infections on asthma onset than non-atopic persons.
Conclusions/significance: This study provides new evidence that recently experienced respiratory infections are a strong determinant for adult-onset asthma. Reducing such infections might prevent onset of asthma in adulthood, especially in individuals with atopy or hereditary propensity to it.