Childhood allergies are annoying, but common. But now, a new study reveals that they may actually signal a risk of future heart disease.
Researchers found that children and teens with asthma or hay fever were more likely than other kids to be obese or overweight, and they also had about double the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
"You have common health problems that turn out to have a lot more serious consequences in some kids," said study author Dr. Jonathan Silverberg.
For the study (published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology), researchers analyzed data collected from about 13,000 children in the United States up to the age of 17, whose parents answered questions about the children's health as part of the 2012 National Health Interview Study (NHIS).
The actual increase in risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol wasn't large—it grew by about 1 percentage point for the kids with asthma and hay fever. "Clearly, not every kid with allergic disease has increased cardiovascular disease," Dr. Silverberg said. "Based on other studies, we suspect that it is mostly kids with more severe disease, though we were not able to examine that in this particular study."
So what's the link between allergies and heart disease? According to Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at UCLA, imflammation related to allergies could be responsible for an uptick in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. He also said differences in physical activity and diet between kids with and without the conditions could play a role, adding that parents shouldn't be too concerned with the findings.
Dr. Silverberg, however, said the takeaway for parents should be that allergy-related diseases, especially when severe, can lead to other health problems. "It is important to recognize these harmful effects in order to prevent them or treat them early," he said. "Parents should talk to their pediatrician and specialists if their child has allergic disease that is not well-controlled or if they notice that their children are gaining weight or not able to do things other kids their age can do as a result of allergic disease."