To assess whether wheezing and atopic dermatitis were associated with constipation in preschool children and to what extent shared risk factors contribute to this relationship.
A population-based sample of 4651 preschool children was used. At the age of 24, 36 and 48 months, a parental report of functional constipation was available according to the Rome II criteria, and data on atopic dermatitis and wheezing were available using age-adapted questionnaires from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. Stepwise multivariate analyses were performed to assess whether body mass index, infection exposure, food allergy and infant nutrition, and parental stress explained the association between wheezing, atopic dermatitis and constipation.
Out of 4651 children, 12–17% had functional constipation between 24 and 48 months. Symptoms of wheezing decreased from 20% to 12% and atopic dermatitis decreased from 30% to 18% at the age of 24 and 48 months respectively. Between the age of 24 and 48 months, wheezing symptoms were significantly associated with functional constipation (OR 1.17; 1.02 to 1.34) but these results were mainly explained by the child's exposure to infections and use of antibiotics (adjusted odds ratio 1.08; 95% CI 0.95 to 1.24). No significant association was found between symptoms of atopic dermatitis and functional constipation (OR 1.08; 95% CI 0.94 to 1.23).
These findings suggest that functional constipation coexists with wheezing in childhood but is mainly explained by the child's infection exposure and use of antibiotics. Therefore, an independent association between respiratory symptoms and functional bowel disorders as suggested in previous studies is questionable.
Constipation, wheezing and atopic dermatitis are common symptoms in children.
Functional bowel disorders are linked to asthma and atopy in adults.
Functional bowel disorders, asthma and atopic disease may share common risk-factors that may explain coexistence of these symptoms.
Wheezing, but not atopic dermatitis, is associated with functional constipation in preschool children. The association is mainly explained by a history of infection exposure.
Hence, the association between wheezing and functional constipation is not independent. Further research is needed to explore whether this result also applies to the outcome of asthma.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Population-based study population. The study group were not selected according to medical care.
This study addresses a topical area that has not been studied sufficiently and can contribute to the discussion of how asthma or atopy may be associated with functional bowel disorders.
This study took into account multiple shared risk factors of wheezing and constipation to shed light on the suggested association in literature.
Symptoms were available only from parental-reported questionnaires. This may lead to misclassification of the symptoms.
Early wheezing in infancy is not a sufficient predictor of childhood asthma.
No data were available regarding parental concerns of the child's health status. Bias may occur when parents with high concerns are more likely to report symptoms in their child as wheezing, constipation and infectious disease.
No data were available on IgE sensitisation, thus conclusions on the assocation between allergic disease and constipation should be made with caution.