Long-term effects of pneumonia in young children
© The Author(s) 2015
Received: 8 May 2015
Accepted: 30 September 2015
Published: 27 October 2015
Each year an estimated 120 million episodes of pneumonia occur in children younger than 5 years of age, resulting in one million deaths globally. Within this age group the lungs are still developing by increasing alveoli numbers and airway dimensions. Pneumonia during this critical developmental period may therefore adversely affect the lung’s structure and function, with increased risk of subsequent chronic lung disease. However, there are few longitudinal studies of pneumonia in otherwise healthy children that extend into adulthood to help address this important question. Birth cohort, longitudinal, case-control and retrospective studies have reported restrictive and obstructive lung function deficits, asthma, bronchiectasis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In particular, severe hospitalised pneumonia had the greatest risk for long-term sequelae. Most studies, however, were limited by incomplete follow-up, some reliance upon parental recall, risk of diagnostic misclassification, and potential confounders such as nutrition, social deprivation, and pre-existing small airways or lungs. More long-term studies measuring lung function shortly after birth are needed to help disentangle the complex relationships between pneumonia and later chronic lung disease, while also addressing host responses, types of infection, and potential confounding variables. Meanwhile, parents of young children with pneumonia need to be advised about the importance of symptom resolution, post-pneumonia. In addition, paying attention to factors associated with optimising lung growth such as good nutrition, minimising exposure to air pollution, avoiding cigarette smoke, and decreasing the risk of preventable infections through good hygiene and having their children fully vaccinated should be emphasised. Finally, in the developing world and for disadvantaged communities in developed countries, public health policies leading to good quality housing and heating, hygiene, education, and improving socio-economic status are also essential.