Until recently research on childhood asthma has centered on improving management of the disease. Scientists have now discovered a higher incidence of behavioral problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression among asthmatic children. The accompanying mental health conditions can negatively affect a child’s ability to cope with the pulmonary disorder.

Research completed at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital asserts that until these extra conditions or “co-morbidities” are addressed, asthma education programs will not be able to help young patients to the fullest. The results will be are published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

“We can definitively state that families with asthmatic children not only report higher incidences of ADHD, but also of depression, anxiety and learning disabilities,” said Dr. James Blackman, developmental pediatrician at the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center at UVa Children’s Hospital and lead study author.

“If we can manage these co-morbidities, we can better help children with asthma and their families to manage the disease in the healthiest way possible.”

Data for the research came from the National Survey of Children’s Health 2003, which was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The survey results came from telephone polls of households with children.

Parents who reported that their child had asthma also were asked to report the severity of their children’s asthma and any behavior problems. Information was gathered on a total of 102,353 children from ages 0-17 years during 2003-2004. The survey results were analyzed using SUDAAN®, specialized software for analyzing clustered data.

The study uncovered depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities as co-morbidities common among children with asthma. The more severe the child’s asthma was, the higher the incidence of these types of problems.

More than 10 percent of asthmatic children experienced problems that lasted longer than a year and required counseling or treatment. What’s more, these children often missed ten or more days of school, leading parents and caregivers to worry about their children’s healthy academic and emotional development.

“What also is important about this research is that it shows how asthma can lead to psychosocial disadvantages for children in our society,” adds Blackman.

While the medical and research establishment should continue to address the societal problems of poverty and poor education, Blackman believes that children with asthma need to receive tailored and precise treatments addressing their physical and mental and developmental health. This could lead to fewer missed days in school and fewer calls home to parents for behavioral and academic problems.

“What we’re hoping to see are improved overall outcomes for this vulnerable population,” he said.

Source: University of Virginia Health System