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Could fertility treatments cause asthma in children?

By Sara Finlay

BMJ Group News

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Asthma, and symptoms of asthma such as wheezing, are more common in children whose parents conceived using IVF or other fertility treatments, a new study suggests. But this type of study can’t tell use if having fertility treatment causes asthma in children.

What do we know already?

Asthma is one of the most common childhood conditions in the UK, affecting around 1 in 5 children. Several previous studies have found some of the risk factors that might be associated with asthma in children: whether the mother has asthma, parents who smoke, whether the mother is overweight, viruses, and environmental factors such as pollution and how dry the house is.

More recent studies have looked at whether a mother having fertility treatment might increase a child’s risk of getting asthma. The results have been mixed, with some studies suggesting there may be a link, but others not.

The new study looked at 18,818 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.

The children were divided into groups according to whether the pregnancy had been planned, how long it took the mothers to get pregnant, and whether or not the mothers had used any fertility treatment. The mothers who used fertility treatment were divided into those who took drugs to make them release an egg, and those who used assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

The mothers answered questionnaires when their children were 5 and 7 years old, about whether their children had asthma or wheezing. The researchers then compared how many children in the different groups had asthma.

What does the new study say?

Children who were born to mothers who had fertility treatment were more likely to have asthma than children who were planned and whose mothers didn’t have fertility treatment. Compared with the group of children who didn’t have fertility treatment, the children whose mothers used ART were two and a half times more likely to have asthma, two times more likely to have wheezing, and more than four times more likely to be taking asthma medicines.

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