Breathing problems such as coughs, colds, wheezes and asthma are very common in children and young people. These cause numerous visits to the doctor, increased hospital stays during winter months and family disruption.
We did not know enough about these common breathing problems in children. Much research had been carried out with children in hospital, little on less severely ill children at home and school.
We needed to carry out research in the community to include as many children as possible, both healthy and sick. This would give us a better picture of the whole population. We also need to follow up individual children to see if their breathing problems changed as they grew and became adults.
Leicestershire and Rultand are counties with a mix of urban and rural people; long-established and immigrant; wealthy and poor. This is typical of England as a whole. Leicestershire is ideal for studying the nature and outcome of common breathing illnesses in children.
We recruited, in 1990 and again in 1998, two large groups of young children in Leicestershire. Every two to three years we send out questionnaires asking about breathing problems and factors that can affect health. These questionnaires were answered by the parents and later by the young people themselves. More than 10,000 families are involved and most of them have kindly invested time and effort into answering these questionnaires. The information we have gathered is becoming more and more valuable.
Some of the children have come to the Children's Investigation Centre at the Leicester Royal Infirmary to perform breathing tests, allergy tests and other measurements which help us to survey their health. Others have had these tests at their own schools.
We are beginning to understand which children are likely to grow out of wheeze and cough, which will have asthma later in life and how to prevent breathing problems in the future generations.
The research carried out in the Leicestershire studies will contribute to improving respiratory health in children, both now and in future. We want to know how to treat children better. More importantly, we need to prevent illness in the first place and to help children remain healthy.
Some of our questions are:
We have to continue to collect data from the same children and young people over many years. They are now reaching adult life and stopped growing. Although the research is carried out in Leicester, UK, the results will apply to people all over the world.