Background: Atopic dermatitis (AD) is common in children in industrialized countries. Only one large population study on its prevalence has been conducted in Italy, based on self-report questionnaire. The present study was designed to estimate the prevalence of AD in schoolchildren in Italy by dermatologists’ assessment and by UK Working Party criteria, and to investigate associated symptoms and factors.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey on a random sample of 9-year-old schoolchildren from seven Italian cities. Children were examined by experienced dermatologists. Parents and teachers answered standardized questionnaires.
Results: Of the 1369 children examined, 88 had a diagnosis of AD, with an estimated point prevalence of 5.8% (95% CI 4.5–7.1) in the reference population. The reported lifetime prevalence was 15.2 (95% CI 12.2–18.2) for AD, 11.9% (95% CI 9.0–14.8) for asthma, and 17.6% (95% CI 14.6–20.7) for rhino-conjunctivitis. The strongest associated factor was the presence of AD in at least one parent. No association of AD with maternal smoking during pregnancy, birth weight, maternal age at the time of the child birth and breast-feeding was observed. The environmental characteristics of the house and the school did not correlate with the prevalence of AD. Episodes of lower respiratory tract infections were associated with asthma, and to a lower extent also with AD and rhinitis.
Conclusions: The prevalence of doctor-diagnosed AD in Italian schoolchildren is comparable to those reported for other developed countries. Family history of atopy was the single most important associated factor, while the complex interplay of environmental factors remains to be elucidated.