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Risk for asthma doubled in children with developmental disabilities

Rates of asthma are higher among children with developmental disabilities, a new study has found. File Photo by M. Dykstra/Shutterstock
Rates of asthma are higher among children with developmental disabilities, a new study has found. File Photo by M. Dykstra/Shutterstock

June 16 (UPI) -- Children with developmental disabilities like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy are more than twice as likely than others to have asthma, according to a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open.

Sixteen percent of youngsters in the United States up to age 17 with physical, learning, language and behavioral limitations that result in functional challenges have asthma, compared to 6 percent of children without these disabilities, the analysis revealed.

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"Parents of children with disabilities or delays may want to ask their pediatrician to screen for asthma, especially if their child shows or starts to show any signs of distressed breathing, wheezing, etc.," study co-author Sarah Messiah told UPI.

"It may also be important to screen very young asthmatic children for disabilities and delays," said Messiah, a professor of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas.

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Estimates suggest that one of every six children in the United States has a developmental disability, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder, an intellectual or learning disability, or vision, hearing or speech delay -- or not meeting growth milestones.

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In addition, some 6 million American children have asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reasons for the relationship between the disabilities and asthma remains unclear, but researchers have suggested that increased inflammation caused by stress -- particularly in children with ADHD -- and prenatal trauma could be factors, Messiah said.

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Studies have also indicated that inhaled corticosteroids, a common treatment for asthma, might cause "neurological side effects that can be misclassified as ADHD" in some children, but this has not yet been demonstrated in larger clinical trials, she said.

For the analysis, Messiah and her colleagues reviewed data on nearly 72,000 children who participated in the 2016 and 2017 National Survey of Children's Health. Among these participants, roughly 5,600 had asthma and more than 11,000 had at least one developmental disability, the researchers said.

In addition to the higher overall prevalence of asthma among children with disabilities, ethnic minorities had a higher prevalence of concurrent asthma and developmental disabilities -- approximately 20 percent -- compared to non-Hispanic white children at about 13 percent.

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"For some of these children, it may be difficult to communicate their discomfort or need for medication," Messiah said.

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