Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on infant lung function, wheeze, and respiratory infections in Australian children

Vilcins, D., Blake, T.L., Sly, P.D., Saffery, R., Ponsonby, A.-L., Burgner, D. et al. (2023) Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on infant lung function, wheeze, and respiratory infections in Australian children. Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research, 00, 1–10. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.15205



Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is a known risk factor for a range of adverse outcomes, such as facial dysmorphism, adverse birth outcomes, and neurodevelopmental changes. Preclinical research shows that PAE also inhibits lung development, lowers surfactant protein expression, has detrimental effects on alveolar macrophages, and decreases both T and B cell numbers. However, clinical evidence of respiratory impacts from PAE is limited. This study explored whether lung function, wheeze, and incidence of respiratory infections differ in children with PAE compared with unexposed children.


Data from the Barwon Infant Study (n = 1074) were examined. PAE data were extracted from maternal questionnaires at trimesters 1 and 2 (combined), and trimester 3, and included as “total standard drinks” during each trimester and total pregnancy intake, a binary yes/no for PAE, and binge drinking (>5 standard drinks in one session). Respiratory outcomes were parent-reported wheeze, lung function (measured by multiple breath washout), and parent report and medical record indicators of health service attendances for respiratory conditions. Linear and logistic regressions were performed to quantify relationships between PAE and respiratory outcomes, controlling for socioeconomic status, birthweight, sex, gestational age, and maternal smoking.


Binge drinking was associated with increased health service attendance for respiratory condition(s) in the first 12 months of life (OR = 5.0, 95% CI (1.7, 20.7), p = 0.008). We did not find a relationship between binary PAE and binge drinking with lung function at 4 weeks of age or wheeze at 12 months. The number of standard drinks consumed in trimester two was associated with a lower lung clearance index (β = −0.011 turnovers, 95% CI (−0.0200, −0.0013), p = 0.03), and a small increase in functional residual capacity (β = 0.34 mL, 95% CI (0.02, 0.66), p = 0.04).


We found an association between binge drinking and health service utilization for respiratory conditions in infancy, but no evidence that low-level PAE was associated with adverse respiratory outcomes.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.