That’s why children get asthma – and so we can prevent it

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Air pollution and many respiratory infections during infancy. There are two important factors that can be linked to asthma, the results from the large population study Bamse project show.

– If we are to be able to prevent asthma, we must focus on what happens early in life, says researcher Erik Melén.

That's why children get asthma – and so we can prevent it

Asthma is one of our most common chronic diseases. About ten percent of the population in Sweden is estimated to live with asthma. And the disease often develops early in life – asthma and other respiratory problems, for example, are one of the most common reasons why children of preschool age visit an emergency room. Many children also have both asthma and some form of allergy.

So why do so many of us get asthma? It is a mystery that research is now struggling to solve.

Genes and environment

– The simple answer is a combination of hereditary factors and the growing environment we have around us. Which genes are involved and which factors in the environment affect the most – there we have collected a lot of puzzle pieces in recent years, says Erik Melén, professor and chief physician at Karolinska Institutet and Sachsska Children's Hospital in Stockholm.

He is responsible for the large population study Bamse project, where around 4,000 young adults were followed from birth until today. The project, which is supported by the Asthma and Allergy Association's Research Fund, has resulted in several exciting research results. Most recently from the follow-up that was done when the participants turned 24 years old.

  • What we know today is that heredity and environment interact in a very complex way with the help of so-called epigenetic changes.
  • This means that various environmental factors can contribute to changing the genes chemically and thus start the disease process that leads to asthma, ie chronic inflammation of the trachea with symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, mucus and narrow airways, says Erik Melén.

The right mix of microbiota

An important factor is also the microbial exposure early in life and the fact that growing up in an agricultural environment seems to reduce the risk of asthma and other allergic diseases. At the same time, it is difficult to translate it into a modern lifestyle because most children today grow up in an urban environment, says Erik Melén.

– We know that our modern lifestyle has a strong connection to asthma. Therefore, very important research is underway here to find the right cocktail of good bacteria and other microbiota or supplements of, for example, omega-3 which, like vaccination, could be added to pregnant women or newborns to protect against asthma and allergy disease.


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