Toddlers who sleep in the same bed as their parents may be at increased risk of developing asthma, according to a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

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Toddlers who bed-shared at 24 months old were found to be at increased risk of being diagnosed with asthma at age 6.

The researchers, from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, collected information on asthma symptoms from 6,160 mothers via a questionnaire issued every year for the first 6 years of their child’s life. A second questionnaire also collected information on sleeping patterns at the ages of 2 months and 24 months.

The study reports that children who shared the bed with their parents when they were infants were not more likely to be diagnosed with asthma or have a higher risk of wheezing during their first 6 years of life.

But the researchers found that bed-sharing at 24 months was associated with increased risk of wheezing between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, and toddlers who bed-shared at this age were also at higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma at age 6.

However, the authors suggest that rather than bed-sharing causing asthma, the association could perhaps be driven by parents noticing asthma symptoms in their child and then sharing the bed with them in an effort to monitor the child.

First author Dr. Maartje Luijk says:

There could be a number of factors at play here. For example, bed-sharing families might be more likely to report wheezing because they are more attentive or aware of their children’s breathing. Alternatively, families might perceive wheezing as problematic and as something that could lead to sleep problems, which might in turn elicit bed-sharing to better monitor these problems. More research is needed to identify the factors that may impact on the development of asthma through bed-sharing.”

In a linked comment, Associate Editor of the European Respiratory Journal Dr. Claudia Kuehni writes that the study stands out from many others as “it does not content itself with showing that putative risk factors and health outcome are associated (which means only that they occur more often together than would be expected by chance).”

“Rather, the authors investigate temporal relationships to find out if the risk factor, here bed-sharing, might affect the health outcome, in our example asthma,” she says, adding that while the methods behind this study are not new, they remain underused.

Recently, Medical News Today took an in-depth look at the risks of bed-sharing with infants. Although some studies find increased risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) to be associated with bed-sharing, we reported that other studies find that bed-sharing actually reduces the risk of SIDS.

A 2011 study by researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia found that toddlers with wheezing symptoms and a sensitivity to house dust mites are at increased risk of developing asthma by the age of 12.

“Our study did not show house dust mite caused asthma but it highlighted a strong correlation between sensitivity and more severe wheeze and asthma,” said that study’s lead author, Dr. Caroline Lodge, who added:

“House dust mites are common in our environment. They are something we have to live with every day. Previous studies have revealed that efforts to eradicate house dust mites have been ineffective.”