Breathing test to predict asthma in young children

General February 2015

Breathing test to predict asthma in young children

Researchers at Maastricht UMC+ have developed a new breathing test that can predict the onset of asthma in young children. To date, no reliable diagnostic test could provide an accurate prediction of this lung disease in infants with chronic respiratory symptoms. It was discovered that two-thirds of these children did not develop asthma by the age of six and were often prescribed unnecessary medication. The new breathing test should prevent this.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that is characterised by chest tightness, high-pitched wheezing, and a persistent cough. Roughly forty percent of all children will experience similar symptoms before the age of six. Many of these children are misdiagnosed with asthma, with two-thirds experiencing transient symptoms caused by viral infections instead of the chronic lung disease. Current diagnostic methods are unable to distinguish between transient symptoms and the asthma in children under the age of six. An additional breathing test appears to significantly improve predictions.

Reliable predictor
Maastricht researchers analysed exhaled breath in more than 200 children aged two to four who experienced symptoms of wheezing. They also performed genetic tests on a sample of blood to identify any inflammatory activity. A diagnosis was then made when the children reached the age of six. Of those examined, 76 went on to develop asthma. Researchers were able to accurately predict which children would develop the disease in ninety percent of the cases. This was possible as the composition of exhaled breath and inflammatory activity differs in asthmatic patients and non-asthmatic patients.   

Unnecessary medication
‘This test is a welcome addition to current diagnostics,’ says paediatric pulmonologist and Professor Edward Dompeling of Maastricht UMC+. ‘Children who don’t go on to develop asthma are often prescribed asthma medication anyway. Not only are these drugs costly, they have absolutely zero effect on the viral infections these children have.’ Onno van Schayck, professor of Preventative Medicine at Maastricht UMC+, sees even more advantages. ‘It’s a simple, non-invasive test that could easily be performed by general practitioners in the future. That is often the first place parents go when their children start wheezing.’

The study conducted by the Maastricht researchers was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, a leading scientific journal in the field of respiratory diseases. The study was sponsored by the Dutch Lung Foundation (Longfonds), the MUMC+ Financial Support Fund, the Asthma Foundation (SAB), and Teva Pharma Nederland.

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