Infants who live in "moldy” homes are three times more likely to develop asthma by age 7, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s.

Results were published in the August 2011 edition of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).  

Researchers analyzed seven years of data on 176 children to evaluate the effects of early mold exposure. 

"Early life exposure to mold seems to play a critical role in childhood asthma development,” says Tiina Reponen, PhD, the study’s lead author and UC professor of environmental health. "Genetic factors are also important, since infants whose parents have allergies or asthma are at the greatest risk of developing asthma.”

Infants in the study were identified at high risk for allergies based on family medical history.  Researchers measured mold exposure levels using the environmental relative moldiness index (ERMI), a DNA-based analysis tool. Eighteen percent of the children in the study were found to be asthmatic by age 7. That compares with about 9 percent of school-age children nationwide who develop asthma.

The findings could help raise parents’ awareness about the risks of mold in their homes. Researchers and physicians might find ERMI to be a useful measure of mold exposure in children, says Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, an allergy and immunology expert at Cincinnati Children’s and study co-author.

“We have needed better ways to quantify mold exposure, specifically mold exposure that promotes disease,” Hershey says.