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Asthma Symptoms Are Worse in Children With Stressed Parents

A lip balm and an asthma pump.
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University of Queensland research has shown a link between parental stress stemming from financial hardship and exacerbated asthma symptoms in children.

Dr K M Shahunja from UQ’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health led a study which analysed the data of more than 3,900 children collected over 14 years in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

“We examined the relationship between psychosocial factors such as maternal depression, financial hardship, stressful life events, and parental availability and the occurrence of wheezing as a symptom of asthma,” Dr Shahunja said.

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"We compared children who experienced wheezing during their childhood with those who didn’t have it recorded in their medical history.

“Children with parents experiencing moderate to increasing levels of stress were found to be 77 per cent more likely to have elevated rates of wheezing, compared to those who encountered fewer stressful events.

“Children exposed to moderate levels of maternal depression had a 55 per cent higher likelihood of experiencing elevated rates of wheezing, and children with parents facing moderate financial hardship had a 40 per cent increased risk of experiencing this respiratory issue.

“While previous research has shown general parental stress can trigger their child's asthma, this is the first time we've linked a parent's depression and financial stress to increased asthma symptoms throughout childhood.”

Dr Shahunja said the study was the first in Australia to look at the association of psychosocial factors with asthma symptoms through longitudinal analyses of one- to 15-year-olds.

“People are generally aware that environmental factors like smoking, traffic pollution and allergens can trigger asthma symptoms, but perhaps don’t realise psychosocial stressors can also have a harmful effect,” Dr Shahunja said.

“It’s important parents and health professionals understand the significant influence the psychosocial environment has on children and how stressors can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

“Further research is needed to develop effective strategies to address maternal depression, financial hardship, and parental stress for long-term asthma control in children.”

Reference: Shahunja KM, Sly PD, Mamun A. Trajectories of psychosocial environmental factors and their associations with asthma symptom trajectories among children in Australia. Pediatric Pulmonology. 2023:ppul.26733. doi: 10.1002/ppul.26733

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