BACKGROUND: Early-life respiratory tract infections might affect chronic obstructive respiratory diseases, but conclusive studies from general populations are lacking. Our objective was to examine if children with early-life respiratory tract infections had increased risks of lower lung function and asthma at school age. METHODS: We used individual participant data of 150 090 children primarily from the EU Child Cohort Network to examine the associations of upper and lower respiratory tract infections from age 6 months to 5 years with forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), FEV1/FVC, forced expiratory flow at 75% of FVC (FEF75%) and asthma at a median (range) age of 7 (4-15) years. RESULTS: Children with early-life lower, not upper, respiratory tract infections had a lower school-age FEV1, FEV1/FVC and FEF75% (z-score range: -0.09 (95% CI -0.14- -0.04) to -0.30 (95% CI -0.36- -0.24)). Children with early-life lower respiratory tract infections had a higher increased risk of school-age asthma than those with upper respiratory tract infections (OR range: 2.10 (95% CI 1.98-2.22) to 6.30 (95% CI 5.64-7.04) and 1.25 (95% CI 1.18-1.32) to 1.55 (95% CI 1.47-1.65), respectively). Adjustment for preceding respiratory tract infections slightly decreased the strength of the effects. Observed associations were similar for those with and without early-life wheezing as a proxy for early-life asthma. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that early-life respiratory tract infections affect development of chronic obstructive respiratory diseases in later life, with the strongest effects for lower respiratory tract infections.
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