Is childhood bronchitis a marker of lung problems in later life?

Jolyon Attwooll

4/07/2022 2:43:51 PM

Research suggests there is ‘no clear link’ that the condition persists into middle age, but there may be other concerns.

Child getting chest examination.
Recurrent protracted bronchitis in childhood was associated with asthma and pneumonia later in life.

A recently published cohort study suggests there is a ‘surprising’ lack of association between recurrent childhood bronchitis and chronic bronchitis in middle age.
The results were published this month in the open access BMJ Open Respiratory Research journal and were based on data from the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study.
However, the research did suggest that those who had several long bouts of childhood bronchitis were more prone to ‘multiple respiratory outcomes’ in middle-age, including asthma and pneumonia.
The cohort study, which included work by researchers at the Universities of Melbourne and Tasmania, tracked the evolution of 3202 participants of the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study who were born in 1961 and first assessed at the age of seven.
While almost half (47.5%) had childhood bronchitis, only 1.3% reported having ‘recurrent protracted bronchitis’. This latter group was more associated with asthma and pneumonia when they responded to a later assessment at the age of 53 when compared to the large group without any history of childhood bronchitis.
The study’s authors hope the findings will benefit respiratory health both in children and for those in middle age, insofar as it could help doctors identify children who may benefit from ‘more careful monitoring and earlier interventions’.
‘We increasingly recognise that many adult illnesses have origins in childhood, so it was surprising that frequent and prolonged episodes of bronchitis in children was not clearly associated with chronic bronchitis in mid-adult life,’ lead author Dr Jennifer Perret told newsGP.
‘In the general population, we think there are more children growing out of having bronchitis and more adults developing chronic bronchitis than children who have episodic bronchitis persisting into their early 50s.
‘[However], it seems important that GPs ensure that young children who have a wet cough of more than four weeks duration are managed appropriately, especially if these protracted episodes are recurrent.
‘Closer monitoring for later asthma and pneumonia may be useful for these patients.’
It was a view echoed by the Dr Kerry Hancock, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Respiratory Medicine.
‘This study emphasises the importance of recognising the young children who may have protracted bacterial bronchitis,’ Dr Hancock told newsGP.
Dr Hancock says protracted bacterial bronchitis (PBB) is highly prevalent in Aboriginal children and described the condition as ‘under recognised and under treated’.
She also recommended free e-health training provided by the Lung Foundation to help address chronic wet cough in Aboriginal children.
The study notes that PBB was only defined in 2016.
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