Increased Asthma Frequency and Asthma Severity in Children: The Asssociation with Atopy

Asthmatic children with atopy have more frequent and more severe virus-induced illnesses.

During a career you hear many words of wisdom from your mentors who are with you seeing children in the office and from meetings, curbside conversations/consultations, and from the literature. The adage that allergic children get sick easier, more frequently, and have more severe illnesses has been out there for many years. There are a number of theories for this contention. Children with allergy tend to remedy their itchy nose with internal manipulation, otherwise known as nose-picking. The finger serves as the vector for direct inoculation of viral particles onto the respiratory tract. Also, a number of years ago a publication reported that allergic noses actually had more receptors for the cold virus than non-allergic noses.

The May issue of the  Journal of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (Volume 125 No 5.) has an article by Jaime Olenec, ‘Weekly monitoring of children with asthma for infections and illness during common cold seasons’ concluded that atopic (showing IgE antibodies) children with asthma do have more frequent and more severe asthma exacerbations due to the common cold. The bottom line for me is the impact that the specialty of allergy and the determination of sensitization to allergens can make on children with asthma. The study did not address allergen control measure effects on frequency/severity of asthma symptoms.

My review of the study-

The group who did this is excellent and has a long established research track record and publication record regarding the role of viruses and allergy in pediatric asthma.

The journal in which this was published is peer-reviewed and a top-notch allergy journal. Also of note is that the manuscript was submitted in September, 2010 and was accepted for publication four months later.

The support for the work was from the National Institutes of Health.

The purpose of the study was to look at the impact of viral infections and allergic sensitization on the loss of asthma control during the peak ‘cold’ season.

The study involved 58 children between the ages of 6-8 years who were known to have asthma. These children were followed for three years. Skin testing and specific IgE testing was performed on all. Nasal samples were collected and analyzed for human rhinovirus infection. Diary cards were kept for symptoms. Cold and asthma symptom scores were collected along with peak flow value recordings and notations of the frequency albuterol (rescue inhaler) usage.

There were 42 children who had at least one season of complete data. The average age was 6.5 years and there were 30 boys and 12 girls. In this group 50% had one or more positive skin prick test for an allergen. Of note is that 69% had one or more positive blood tests for an allergen. Additional baseline information included; daily asthma controller medications used by 88%, and oral corticosteroids were used by 57% in the past year. Fifty five percent of the mothers and 40% of the fathers had allergy.

The number of viral illnesses per season was higher in the allergen sensitized group; 47% more virus-associated illness per season. During documented viral infections (viral cultures were frequently performed), the non-atopic children commonly reported no or mild cold symptoms. In the sensitized (atopic) children symptoms tended to be more moderate or severe. Also, almost half of the viral infections in the sensitized children caused moderate or severe asthma symptoms.

The author’s conclusions were that respiratory tract illnesses (asthma symptoms) due to viruses were more severe and were more frequent in children who are atopic.

These were children with asthma who had a positive allergy test. The terms sensitized and atopy were used to describe the group. Asthma frequency and asthma severity was increased in those who have made at least one IgE antibody to something.

This was a small study which was done in only one site. Larger studies in a variety of populations need to be done to confirm these observations.

This work re-affirms my practice of being aggressive with my allergic asthmatic children when the first signs of a cold occur. I advocate stepping-up the treatment program and continuing it for up to 14 days. One of the charts shows that the average duration of cold symptoms was 8.1 +/- 5.6 days and the average duration of asthma symptoms was 7.2 +/- 7.8 days in those who had a documented rhinovirus infection. For me this fits nicely with what I advise- on the average cold symptoms may begin the day prior to asthma symptoms and at the extremes of the range, asthma symptoms may last 14 days in some children.


June 10, 2010 · fleickly · No Comments
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