Asthma inhaler
Childhood asthma linked to later mental health problems Image: Reuters

Young children with asthma run a greater risk of developing mental health problems in later life, researchers from the University of Western Australia and Columbia University have found.

Young children with severe or persistent asthma have been found to be at greater risk of developing many common mental health problems. Researchers came to the conclusion after analysing data obtained from Australia's Raine Study health research project, to determine whether children who had asthma at age five were susceptible to later mental health problems through to the age of 17.

"We were interested in understanding the link between asthma in early childhood and mental health problems later on as little is known about the relationship. We looked at whether the link was present for mild as well as severe asthma, and whether the link depended on asthma symptoms being persistent throughout childhood as opposed to asthma that lessens as the child grows older," said Dr Monique Robinson, psychologist at the University of Western Australia.

During the study, children with asthma were separated into groups depending on the severity of their condition. The study found that children with mild asthma were no different from those without asthma in terms of mental health outcomes, but children with severe or persistent asthma were most at risk of future mental health problems.

Researchers found that children suffering from asthma at age five were associated with a higher vulnerability to later development of problems such as anxiety and conduct and affective problems.

Children whose asthma developed later in childhood were found to be at lower risk of developing mental health problems.

"We did find that as children got older, the likelihood that they would experience a mental health problem decreased, perhaps indicating that as children get older they are better able to adjust to their asthma without experiencing psychological difficulties," Dr Robinson said.