Working Parents, Take a Deep Breath: Preschool, Daycare Do Not Raise Asthma Risk

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A study that involved combing through more than 50 years of data to assess the link between asthma and daycare and preschool attendance may provide welcome reassurance to working parents. Early child care does not boost children’s risk for developing this common respiratory disease, according to the study led by researchers at UCSF and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

In fact, attending a child care facility is protective of asthma in children ages 3 to 5, lowering their odds of developing asthma by 34 percent, the authors concluded in the study publishing April 9, 2018, in the Journal of Asthma.

However, the results weren’t all good news, noted senior author and pediatrician Michael Cabana, MD, MPH, chief of the UCSF Division of General Pediatrics. While early child care did not increase asthma risk in children aged 6 to 18, its protective effect was not sustained in this age group. Additionally, in tots aged 2 and under, child care was associated with nearly twice the odds of wheezing, the whistling or rattling sound when breathing that may be due to the smaller airways of very young children in combination with a viral infection.

In the meta-analysis, Cabana and first author Alicia Swartz, a PhD candidate in the UCSF School of Nursing, assessed 32 peer-reviewed studies published from 1964 to 2017. The papers looked at the incidence of asthma and wheeze as reported by parents and/or medical providers of children attending child care, defined as any out-of-home program offering care and education in the pre-kindergarten years. 

‘All that Wheezes is Not Asthma’

“The early benefit of child care exposure can potentially be explained by the hygiene hypothesis,” said Cabana. “This theory suggests that lack of exposure to infectious diseases commonly found in child care settings may decrease the risk of allergic diseases, including asthma.”

The increase in wheeze in children ages 2 and under may not be of particular concern, …

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