Asthma rates high among abused children

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The risk of developing asthma is doubled in children who have suffered physical or sexual abuse, new research in Puerto Rico shows.

“Our findings highlight the importance of screening for asthma among victims of childhood abuse, and to be aware of the possibility of physical or sexual abuse among children with asthma,” write Dr. Juan C. Celedon of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues, noting that their study is the first to find a link between child abuse and asthma.

Several studies have found higher rates of asthma among Puerto Ricans living on the US mainland than among whites, blacks or other Latinos, the researchers note in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Research conducted after September 11, as well as studies in Vietnam vets, has also suggest that Puerto Rican individuals may suffer greater emotional distress when exposed to violence, they add.

To see if certain stressors boost childhood asthma risk, Celedon and his team looked at whether Puerto Rican children living in Puerto Rico who had been exposed to violence at home or in their communities might be more likely to have been diagnosed with the condition.

Their survey of 1,213 children and their chief caregivers found that nearly 40 percent had been diagnosed with asthma at some point. During the year before the survey, 14 percent of all the children had seen an act of violence, 7 percent had been victims of violence, and 6 percent had suffered physical or sexual abuse.

The researchers found no relationship between exposure to neighborhood violence or stressful life events and a child’s asthma risk.

However, those who had been victims of sexual or physical abuse were 2.52 times more likely to have asthma currently, and 2.35 times more likely to be taking asthma medications.

The study likely underestimated the prevalence of abuse, Celedon and his colleagues note. That’s because such violence is most often perpetrated by a child’s parents, and while the information was gathered from children separately, when possible, it also came from their parents or other primary caregivers.

The researchers call for further research to examine potential mechanisms behind the abuse-asthma link, such as alterations in the body’s ability to respond to stress.

SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, September 2008.