Children with bad allergies and asthma have a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular problems at a young age, according to research published Tuesday in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Allergies and asthma have already been tied to obesity and other metabolic disorders in adults. The new research suggests the conditions might be more of a public health problem than previously realized.
Researchers looked at data on 13,275 children between birth and age 17 in the US and found that asthma and allergies in young children were associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. In addition, eczema, a condition that causes itchy, inflamed skin, was associated with a higher risk of obesity.
But researchers aren’t sure why the link exists.
“If there’s smoke in all these different places, you’ve gotta believe there’s a fire somewhere,” said Dr. Gailen Marshall, an allergy and immunology researcher from the University of Mississippi who was not affiliated with the study. “It’s just a matter of figuring out where the fire’s coming from, and that’s the stage of research we’re in now.”
One possible factor: Children with severe asthma often find it difficult to participate in sports or other physical activity. Kids with severe eczema face a similar problem, because sweat exacerbates their skin condition.
These issues can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, and that, in turn, can lead to cardiovascular problems. And there’s no good research on how to keep kids moving when exercise leads to serious side effects like asthma attacks, said Dr. Jonathan Silverberg, a dermatologist at Northwestern University and the lead author of the study.
Another factor: Children with the most severe cases of asthma and allergies are often treated with steroids. Asthma patients, for example, are often prescribed a drug that falls into the family of beta-agonists, which relax constricted airways and ease breathing. But while they relieve symptoms of asthma, Marshall said, they also can raise blood pressure.
“This finding really underscores why we need safer and better long-term medications to treat these disorders,” Silverberg said.
Experts said doctors and parents need to be more attuned to cardiovascular problems that crop up in children with asthma and allergies, including checking their cholesterol levels periodically. But they said not enough physicians are doing so.
“It hasn’t yet risen to the conscious level of providers that deal with this on a regular basis,” Marshall said, “and that’s alarming.”