Allergic conditions, especially asthma, seem to be increasingly common the world over. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood [ISAAC] was the first worldwide study carried out with standardized questionnaires in order to create a reliable global map of childhood allergy.
The Maltese Islands were one of the centres participating in this study and in this paper the data obtained from 4184 13–15 year olds from 22 state and three private schools [88.7% response rate], and also data obtained from some added ‘local’ questions addressed to the same children, are included. in order to evaluate the problem of allergic conditions in Maltese schoolchildren.
27.9% of the participants were wheezers ‘ever’ while 16% were current wheezers. Of the latter children 15.1% were experiencing nocturnal wheezing at least once a week and 22% had a wheezing episode severe enough to limit speech. Nasal problems were present in 52.7% of these teenagers and 47.4% of all respondents persisted with these symptoms up to the year of answering the questionnaire. Hayfever had been diagnosed in 32.3% of all the children. 12.8% of respondents had a recurring itchy rash suggestive of eczema for at least 6 months of their lives and 10% had it currently. This was slightly lower than the global mean, unlike the case of wheezing, which in Malta was more common than the world average, and rhinitis, for which we had the second highest cumulative prevalence rate in the world. Multiple variables such as gender, smoking, family history of atopy, pets, soft furnishings and living in busy roads affected the prevalence and severity of the allergic conditions studied.
Allergic conditions are very common in Maltese schoolchildren and are causing a lot of hardship to these same youngsters. The results of this study should serve as a stimulus to try and decrease this suffering through better management of these conditions, measures to control possible detrimental factors and further research on asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema.