DENVER--Children with severe allergies have a greater tendency to also have significant behavior problems, such as aggressiveness, depression and irritability than children with no allergies, according to research at National Jewish Medical and Research Center. The chance that a child has behavior problems if he or she also has allergies is about 10 percent higher than a child without allergies.
"This seems to be caused by genetics," said Marianne Wamboldt, M.D., principal investigator of the study and head of the Pediatric Division of Psychiatry at National Jewish. "It is not just due to the nuisance of having allergies, but is caused by some similar effect that underlies both allergies and depression."
Published in today's edition of the British Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Dr. Wamboldt's study compared identical and fraternal twins. Behavior problems are found more frequently in the co-twin of identical twins with allergies than in the co-twin of fraternal twins with allergies, leading researchers to believe that the association between severe allergies and behavior problems is mostly genetic. "Our research found that genetics accounts for more than 70 percent of the relationship between allergies and behaviors such as depression and aggression," Dr. Wamboldt said.
By studying identical twins, who have the same DNA, and fraternal twins, whose DNA differs, researchers were able to separate genetic and environmental influences as factors in behavior. Parents were asked about their child's allergies and "acting out," such as hyperactivity, aggression and irritability; allergies and depression; and allergies and social anxiety. The study, which looked at more than 200 children 3-11 years old, may help physicians discover new approaches to treating children who fall into this group. "It may be helpful to look for common biological pathways between allergies and behavior problems in children as a better way of treating both," Dr. Wamboldt said.
For more information on any of these topics, call LUNG LINE, (800) 222-LUNG or visit the National Jewish Web site, http://www.nationaljewish.org/pa.
National Jewish Medical and Research Center is ranked as the best hospital in the United States for pulmonary disease treatment by U.S. News & World Report, 1998.