Research has shown that children that catch certain respiratory illnesses that include wheezing as a symptom are significantly more likely to develop asthma than children who do not contract the illness. Now, new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when you add the genes of parents that have allergies or asthma to the mix, nearly all children who contract a cold with wheezing will end up with asthma by age six.

In the research study, scientists looked at a region of chromosome 17 that has been associated with a higher risk of childhood asthma. Two very common genes found on the chromosome seem to be the cause of wheezing when children are infected with rhinovirus, or the common cold.

In the study, researchers looked at two study groups. One group had 200 children with at least one parent with allergies or asthma. The second group consisted of Danish children who have mothers with asthma. The results were solid: children with one copy of the high-risk genetic variant for asthma 60% who wheezed when they caught a cold developed asthma, but 90% of children with two copies of the genetic variant that had rhinovirus with wheezing as a symptom developed asthma.

We found that the interaction between this specific wheezing illness and a gene or genes on a region of chromosome 17 determines childhood asthma risk. The combination of genetic predisposition and the child’s response to this infection has a huge effect,” said study author Carole Ober, a Blum-Riese Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago in a statement.

The end result of the study showed that children who wheezed and had at least one parent with asthma or allergies were four times more likely to develop asthma. With this in mind, wheezing as a symptom with the common cold could be a strong indicator for asthma that could be used to diagnose and treat young patients.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT