Preschool children with asthma, food allergies, and pollen/fur or dust mite allergies are at increased risk of having concurrent mental health problems.
These findings underscore the importance of early detection of these issues and intervention in this at-risk population.
A team led by Sofia Sollander, MD, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University, Sweden, conducted a cross-sectional study of children aged 3-5 years in order to explore the relationships between asthma, allergies, and mental health.
“Asthma and allergies can also correlate to mental health problems in children,” Sollander and team noted.
“Most research on this topic has studied school-aged children and/or adolescents, and showed that those with asthma and allergies have higher risks for neurodevelopmental problems, behavioural and emotional problems, and learning disabilities, compared to their healthy peers,” they wrote.
To confirm these findings for younger populations, the investigators evaluated data from the Children and Parents in Focus study, a population-based intervention study conducted between 2013-2017 that investigated the mental health of preschool children and their parents.
In the study, parents and teachers responded to questions that measured asthma and allergies as well as the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), an assessment for mental health.
Sollander and colleagues then used logistic regression models to explore these associations.
Overall, they assessed data from 4649 children, of which slightly more than half (50.3%) were over the age of 5.
Furthermore, the most common physical conditions were asthma (8.5%), food allergy and intolerance (4.4%), and pollen/fur or dust mite allergy (2.4%).
The mean scores of the SDQ sub-scales, as rated by parents, ranged between 0.71-8.36. As rated by preschool teachers, the mean scores were 0.50-8.42.
The investigators noted that children with asthma had elevated odds of having emotional symptoms as rated by parents (OR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.02-1.76) and teachers (OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.09-1.91). A similar increased risk was observed in children with allergies to pollen/fur or dust mites.
“According to parents’ ratings, these children also had elevated odds of showing mental health problems in general according to the SDQ total score (OR: 1.42; 1.05-1.94),” they reported.
Additionally, food allergies or intolerance was associated with only emotional symptoms (OR, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.16-2.33), as reported by parents.
And finally, in terms of covariates, they noted that children of parents with lower educational levels had elevated odds for these mental health outcomes.
Despite these findings, there are still no established underlying causal mechanisms; however, previous research has suggested stress, medication use, or both may play a role.
“Overall, the associations between asthma, allergies and mental health in children are connected with poor outcomes, including reduced quality of life, which are of great clinical importance, especially for young children,” the investigators concluded.
They indicated that pediatricians working in a community setting should be aware of these risks so they can properly refer patients when appropriate.
The study, “Asthma and allergies correlate to mental health problems in preschool children,” was published online in Acta Paediatrica.