Living conditions in eastern Germany have changed rapidly since unification in 1990 and little is known about how these changes affect the prevalence of atopic diseases. This study describes methods and prevalences of a large epidemiological project investigating determinants of childhood asthma and allergies in eastern (Dresden and Leipzig) and western (Munich) Germany in 1995/1996.
Community based random samples of 9–11 yr old children in Dresden (n=3,017) and Munich (n=2,612), and of 5–7 yr old children in Dresden (n=3,300), Leipzig (n=3,167) and Munich (n=2,165) were studied by parental questionnaires, bronchial challenges with hypertonic saline, skin examination, skin-prick tests, and measurements of specific and total serum immunoglobulin (Ig)E using Phase II modules of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC).
In 9–11 yr old children, the prevalence of physician diagnosed asthma (7.9%versus 10.3%; p<0.01) and bronchial hyperresponsiveness (15.7%versus 19.9%; p<0.05) was lower in Dresden than in Munich. No difference between Munich and Dresden was observed in the prevalence of diagnosed hay fever, skin test reactivity to ≥1 allergen, and increased levels (>0.35 kU·L-1) of specific IgE against inhalant and food allergens. Symptoms and visible signs of atopic eczema tended to be more prevalent in Dresden. Similar East-West differences between the three study areas were seen in the younger age group.
These findings are in line with recently observed increases in the prevalence of hay fever and atopic sensitization, but not of asthma and bronchial hyperresponsiveness, among 9–11 yr old children in Leipzig.