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Infant Colds Don't Boost Asthma Risk

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Babies who catch a lot of colds are not at an increased risk for asthma-associated wheezing later in life, a new study from the Netherlands suggests.

The study found no link between the number of viral infections a child had as a baby and their risk of wheezing at age 4. Wheezing is a sign of asthma.

In fact, results showed that kids who did not wheeze at age 4 had come down with slightly more colds as babies, compared with kids who did wheeze at that age.

Previously, researchers had speculated that viral infections in infancy put children at a higher risk for developing asthma later. However, it was not known whether the infections themselves raised a child's risk of asthma, or whether children with wheezing were also more susceptible to developing a viral infections to begin with, the researchers said. The new study suggests the latter.

The study will be presented this week at the at an American Thoracic Society meeting in San Francisco.

Dr. Anne van der Gugten, a researcher at the University Medical Center Utrecht, and colleagues collected information from 96 children from when they were babies until they were 4 years old. The children had their lung function examined when they were 2 months old, and had their nose and throats swabbed every month during their first year of life to check for viral infections.

At age 4, 13 children (13.5 percent) had a wheezing illness.

Children with wheezing had an average of four human rhinovirus infections (the cause of the common cold) in their first year, compared with an average of five among children without wheezing.

Kids with wheezing illness at age 4 were more likely to have experienced wheezing during viral infections in infancy, but this link was at least partly due to poor lung function as an infant, the researchers said.

"Future research into the relationship between rhinovirus and wheezing disorders should account for factors that might modify this relationship, including neonatal lung function," van der Gugten said.

The study was funded in part by an unrestricted research grant from GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company.

Pass it on:  Frequent colds in infancy do not increase a child's risk for asthma or wheezing problems later in life.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.