The likelihood of a baby with eczema developing asthma and food allergies later on in life can be predicted at age one, say experts.
The link between these conditions was previously well known by researchers – but it was difficult to predict which children affected by the skin condition would go on to develop them.
Now, a Canadian study has found 12-month-olds at risk produce a certain antibody, which shows they are sensitized to an allergen, this means they are likely to develop reactions.
Having eczema alone does not raise a child's likelihood of developing asthma and allergies, it was found.
But those with the antibody were seven times more at risk of asthma and 'significantly' more likely to have allergies.
Sensitization is the process by which the immune system will produce a defensive protein, called an antibody, in response to any substance it considers abnormal, including certain foods, pollen or mold.
However, the production of the antibody does not necessarily lead to symptoms. Depending on the individual, the response can range from minor or nonexistent to serious and potentially life-threatening.
Scientists say the findings help them understand the association, which is known as 'the atopic march'.
'Over the years, the clinical community has struggled to explain the atopic march,' said Dr. Malcolm Sears, founding director of the CHILD Study, a professor of medicine at McMaster University.
'These findings help us to understand the interactive effects of AD and early allergic sensitization on the risk of asthma and food allergy, and show that in combination they pose a significant risk for a future allergic disease.'
How the research was carried out
Using data from more than 2,300 children from across Canada participating in the CHILD Study, the researchers evaluated the presence of AD and allergic sensitization at age one.
When they were three years of age, the researchers performed a clinical assessment to determine the presence of asthma, allergic rhinitis, food allergy and AD.
The combined effect of AD and allergic sensitization was found to be greater than the sum of their individual effects, both on the risk of asthma and on reported food allergy.
'Our findings are useful to help predict which children may develop asthma and allergies,' said the study's first author, Maxwell Tran.
'There are certain genetic variants that we know are risk factors for allergy, but genotyping is not widely used in clinical practice, so this research offers healthcare professionals an alternative method of identifying at-risk children.'
Early exposure to allergens important
New mothers were once told to avoid giving their babies peanuts in order to prevent them later developing allergies to them.
Now, a new Canadian study has found eating the snack while breastfeeding combined with introducing them to your infant before the age of one is a better approach.
It discovered that the lowest rate of adverse reactions among children was for mothers who did both of these.
If mothers did one but not the other, the rate of allergic reactions was 'significantly higher', it was discovered by a team from Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
The findings build on another CHILD study finding, which showed that children who avoid cow's milk products, egg, and peanut during the first year of life are at increased risk of allergic sensitization to these foods later on.
Contrary to previous advice for parents to avoid feeding these foods to infants, it is now known that early introduction is beneficial in promoting tolerance and reducing the risk of food sensitization and food allergy.
'Much of what happens to us later in life is related to the exposures we encounter in early childhood,' said Dr. Sears.
Dr. Judah Denburg, a professor of medicine at McMaster University, said the research was valuable.
'Governments are realizing that we cannot learn about healthy aging if we don't understand what happens to a child during the first few years of life and even to the mother during pregnancy,' added Dr. Judah Denburg, a professor of medicine at McMaster University.
'That's why CHILD, which has been following 3,500 Canadian children and their families from before birth, has such enormous value in answering questions about the origins of chronic diseases.'
The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Asthma UK said the findings were interesting but more research is needed.
Dr. Samantha Walker, director of research and policy, said: 'Having an asthma attack can be very frightening for children and many have to miss school or can't exercise because of the condition.
'This study is important because until now there has been no way of identifying which children are more likely to develop asthma.
'However, although these findings show that children with eczema and allergies are more likely to get asthma overall, more research is needed to be able to predict exactly which children will actually do so on an individual basis.
'This would be extremely helpful so children can be monitored and treated early and possibly prevent more severe symptoms developing.'
'Asthma UK funds research projects into asthma because we know that it is only with more investment in asthma research like this that scientific breakthroughs can become a reality.'
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