The finding appears in the July issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Damp living conditions have long been linked with children's lower respiratory problems. But the role of mold and mildew in the home has never been clear, writes lead researcher Paul C. Stark, PhD, a professor of environmental health with Harvard University School of Public Health.
It's an important issue, since young children with respiratory infections have significantly worse problems later on, he writes. Children's immune systems develop in the first year of life.
In their study, investigators followed 499 infants during their first year -- all children of parents with asthma and allergies. Every two months, a researcher checked with the child's caregiver to see if there had been pneumonia, croup, bronchitis, or other respiratory problems.
Mold and air samples were taken from each home throughout the study. Researchers found that 324 homes had high levels of more than one type of fungi.
When factored with other environmental information, such as number of siblings, whether siblings attended daycare, water damage in the home, and number of units in their building, they found that children in homes with the most fungi -- mold, mildew, or water damage -- had an 86% higher risk of developing upper respiratory infections in the first year.
Those children who did not wheeze but had respiratory problems were most affected by household fungus. For non-wheezing children, their sensitivity to fungus is likely not an allergy but an inflammation of small airways that can lead to respiratory problems, Stark writes.
SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, July 2003.