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Unpacking the Puzzle of Childhood Asthma
June 27, 2016

According to the Lung Association, almost three million Canadians and more than 300 million people worldwide have asthma. Of those, roughly 100,000 Saskatchewan people are living with asthma, including 35,000 children.

“Asthma is one of the most common childhood conditions,” says Dr. Joshua Lawson, epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan. “It is estimated between 14 and 21% of kids in Saskatchewan have the disease.”

The Lung Association is your go-to resource for asthma information and education.

Several studies have suggested that farming or rural exposures are protective of asthma, the reasons for which are unknown. While one explanation may be the environment, including endotoxin, the same exposures may worsen asthma among those with the condition.

“Given the puzzling nature of the relationship between some environmental exposures and asthma,” says Dr. Lawson, “it is important to investigate exposures other than endotoxin in order to help us understand the cause of the disease and identify agents which may trigger episodes.” Endotoxin is found in household dust and is ubiquitous in the indoor environment.

In 2014, Dr. Lawson and his team, Dr. George Katselis, Dr. Donna Rennie and Dr. Shelley Kirychuk from the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) at the University of Saskatchewan, were awarded a SHRF Collaborative Innovation Development grant to investigate two new lines of inquiry which include the identification of constituents in dust and quantify their relationship with asthma and asthma-related outcomes, and the assessment of personal monitoring as a way of collecting dust samples.

“Typically, studies rely on settled dust from carpets and mattresses to assess the role of endotoxin and childhood asthma,” says Dr. Lawson. “But the difficulty with that is it may not account for the child’s true exposure which can include other home or outdoor environments such as the farming environment and where children may be playing.”

To obtain more accurate information, the team is looking at piloting the use of a backpack that will be worn by children for one week. The air intake will sit at head level to better monitor the ambient air. This novel approach will give the researchers a better perspective of what the children are actually breathing and what they are exposed to as opposed to what is collected in settled dust.

Read more about this team’s novel approach to asthma research in Research for Health.

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