Previous studies have provided contradictory evidence on the role of early childhood respiratory infections in the development of asthma and other allergic diseases during childhood. We investigated early-life respiratory infections as predictors of the development of asthma in a 20-year prospective cohort study (the Espoo Cohort Study, 1991-2011). Information on upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) was collected with a parent-administered baseline questionnaire covering the preceding 12 months (part 1; n = 2,228), and information on LRTIs leading to hospitalization was obtained from the National Hospital Discharge Registry (part 2; n = 2,568). The incidence of asthma was assessed on the basis of 6-year and 20-year follow-up questionnaires. Adjusted hazard ratios were estimated using Cox proportional hazards models. Both URTIs (adjusted hazard ratio (HR) = 1.64, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.22, 2.19) and LRTIs (adjusted HR = 2.11, 95% CI: 1.48, 3.00) in early childhood were strong predictors of asthma incidence up to young adulthood (ages 20-27 years). A declining age trend was present for both URTIs (P-trend < 0.01) and LRTIs (P-trend < 0.001). In part 2 of our analysis, a significant risk of asthma was found in relation to LRTIs requiring hospitalization (adjusted HR = 1.93, 95% CI: 1.10, 3.38). The results provide new evidence that respiratory tract infections in early life predict the development of asthma through childhood to young adulthood.
Keywords: asthma; cohort studies; early childhood respiratory infections; hygiene hypothesis; proportional hazards model; respiratory tract.
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