Could Colds Be Behind Asthma Hospitalizations?

Asthma hospitalizations could primarily be driven by the common cold in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Right after schools reopen after break could be the most dangerous time of year for children with asthma, new evidence suggests. And the reason why may surprise you.

Through the use of computer models, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) were able to determine that the common cold was the primary reason why asthma-related hospitalizations tend to spike among kids after spring and summer breaks.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. The condition causes recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7 million US children had asthma in 2010. That’s equal to 1 in every 11 children.

Lauren Meyers, PhD, a professor of integrative biology at UT, was one of four researchers on the study team.

In a press release, Dr. Meyers said, "This work can improve public health strategies to keep asthmatic children healthy. For example, at the riskiest times of year, doctors could encourage patient adherence to preventative medications, and schools could take measures to reduce cold transmission."

When Dr. Meyers refers to the "riskiest time of year" for children with asthma she is talking about the times of year when schools reopen after an extended break. The theory behind this is that, when children are on school breaks, they tend to spend less time with other children and therefore come in contact with fewer viruses.

During these times, researchers said that virus transmission rates can decline by as much as 45 percent. This causes viral immunity to decline. That means, when school starts up again, kids are exposed to viruses at a much higher rate during a time when their immune systems are more susceptible to infection.

The computer model incorporated several possible driving forces behind the seasonal wave of a asthma-related hospitalizations. Every factor was tested independently and compared to real world data. Researchers used data from 66,000 asthmatic children who were hospitalized in Texas during a 7-year period.

Dr. Meyers and team determined that the primary driving force behind the rise in asthma hospitalizations was the common cold, which was in-turn driven by the school calendar. Scientists previously theorized that air quality in schools was to blame for the wave.

This work can improve public health and help doctors develop strategies to keep asthmatic children safe during these peak time periods, Dr. Meyers said. For instance, during risky periods, doctors could encourage their patients to adhere to preventive strategies to ward off the common cold. Schools could take similar measures.

For more information, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options to prevent the common cold.

This study was published on Jan. 8 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed

Review Date: 
February 12, 2016
Last Updated:
February 19, 2016