Some childhood exposures, such as parental smoking and respiratory tract infections as a child, are risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in middle-aged adults, according to a study published in Respirology.

For the study, researchers from the University of Melbourne were able to track childhood risk factors for developing OSA later in life. The study used data from 3,550 people drawn from the population-based Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study, dating back to 1968. At age 7, participants’ parents completed a survey on their behalf, and participants were followed up between the ages of 51 and 54.

The study found several childhood risk factors including maternal asthma and smoking, parents’ smoking habits, as well as childhood pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis that were associated with probable OSA.

Research fellow Chamara Senaratna, MD, PhD, from the Allergy and Lung Health Unit in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, says the study provides the first known evidence of childhood risk factors for developing the disorder.

“This study should stimulate further research into this area, including flagging the future risk of developing obstructive sleep apnoea,” says Senaratna in a release. “It may be useful in a clinical setting to create awareness and vigilance in at-risk groups.”

Senaratna notes that there are many known risk factors for developing the condition, including obesity, older age, and carrying weight around the middle of the body. Males are also more likely to develop OSA.

“We view this study as a stepping stone for further research into this field,” says senior study author Shyamali Dharmage, MD, PhD, head of the Allergy and Lung Health Unit, in a release. 

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