Most preemies outgrow asthma

"We have looked at premature babies from birth and until the age of about 30, and we can see that the children do better and better. As adults they suffer no more lung conditions than others," says Anne Louise de Barros Damgaard. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Babies born prematurely are more likely than full-term babies to develop asthma. The good news is most of them get better as they get older.

For a new study, researchers analyzed register birth and health details of 1.8 million Danes from 1980 to 2009, comparing the degree of ill health of babies born before the 37th week of gestation with babies born after that week.

“We have looked at premature babies from birth and until the age of about 30, and we can see that the children do better and better. As adults they suffer no more lung conditions than others,” says Anne Louise de Barros Damgaard, a medical doctor at the University of Copenhagen.

“By international standards, this is a very large volume of data and is only possible because of the very detailed databases we have in Denmark. We have looked at prescriptions for asthma medicine handed in during a specific period to identify probable asthmatics.

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“We have then compared the group of asthmatics with the rest of the population, and the conclusion is clear: children born prematurely account for a very high proportion of the small children with asthmatic symptoms, but as they grow older, the trend becomes less pronounced,” says Theis Lange, associate professor in the public health department and a coauthor of the study that is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The discovery that people born prematurely grow out of their asthma is also important because more and more premature babies survive not just in Denmark, but worldwide, and because there is still only limited knowledge of their health later in life, Lange says.

“There are a lot of half stories, myths even, about the health implications of prematurity, and they can be a source of worry for parents of premature babies. It is therefore good to know that as adults premature babies are no more susceptible to lung conditions than other people.”

Source: University of Copenhagen