Background: Several studies report substantial differences in the prevalence of skin test reactivity to allergens in children from adjacent geographic areas; others report an increased prevalence over time. To find out whether these differences depend on variations in skin reactivity to histamine, we determined the time trend of histamine wheal sizes in successive cohorts of unselected children living in the same area (Viterbo, Italy).
Methods: We conducted three epidemiologic surveys, each including children aged 9 and 13 years. The 1983–7 study investigated 170 children (150 were tested twice); the 1992 study, 158 children; and the 1996 study, 208 children.
Results: In both age groups, the mean diameter of the wheal induced by histamine skin prick tests (10 mg/ml) increased significantly over time (9-year-olds: 3.25 mm in 1983, 4.68 in 1992, and 5.89 in 1996; 13-year-olds: 3.89 mm in 1987, 5.18 in 1992, and 6.50 in 1996) (P<0.001 between subsequent studies). The distribution of the wheal diameters for both ages showed a trend to a right shift in the three successive studies (P<0.001). The dose-response curves for three histamine concentrations (0.2, 1, and 10 mg/ml) had significantly steeper slopes in 1996 than in 1983–7 (P<0.001).
Conclusions: The marked time-related increase in the size of the histamine wheals could help to explain the trend toward an increased prevalence of positive allergen skin test reactions reported during the past years. The causes of increased skin reactivity to histamine remain conjectural.