Background In most epidemiological survey studies, only subjective symptoms and past medical history of asthma have been used as diagnostic criteria. Even though a questionnaire survey can be performed in a large population study at low cost, limitations such as lack of objectivity and poor predictability in non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness cannot be avoided.
Objectives The purpose of this study was to elucidate the prevalence of current asthma based on questionnaires and methacholine bronchial provocation test, and the prevalence of atopy in Korea.
Methods We performed modified ATS respiratory questionnaires and allergen skin-prick test with 10 common inhalant allergens among 3219 subjects aged 7–19 years in Seoul and a rural part of a small city, Chungju in Korea. Methacholine bronchial provocation tests were also performed among those who had asthma symptoms according to the questionnaire. The criteria of asthma was presence of both asthma symptoms and non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Atopy was defined as when an allergen induced weal size is same or larger than that caused by histamine.
Results The prevalence of asthma based on questionnaires and methacholine bronchial provocation tests was 4.6%, while the prevalence of wheeze was 8.2% and 19.3% of total population complained of one or more respiratory symptoms related to asthma on the questionnaires. There was no significant difference according to age, sex and living area. The mean prevalence of atopy was 35.0% and the most common allergens were Dermatophagoides farinae (30.9%), Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (27.5%), cat fur (20.4%) and cockroach (11.8%). The atopy prevalence in Chungju area was higher than that in Seoul and males showed a higher prevalence than females. The asthma prevalence was higher among atopies (6.8%) than among non-atopies (2.7%). None of questionnaire items were enough to predict the presence of bronchial hyperresponsiveness in terms of sensitivity, specificity and positive predictive value.
Conclusion The prevalence rate of current asthma in Korea was 4.6% and the prevalence rate of atopy in Korea was 35.0%. Questionnaire-based surveys are not enough to predict the actual prevalence of asthma.