Sensitivity to common allergens: relation to respiratory symptoms and bronchial hyper-responsiveness in children from three different climatic areas of Australia


Professor A. J. Woolcock, Institute of Respiratory Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, N.S.W. 2050, Australia.


In order to examine further the relation between atopy, as denned by skin-prick tests, and respiratory illness, we studied three populations of schoolchildren aged 8–11 years and living in different climatic areas of New South Wales, Australia. Skin-prick tests were performed using 13 commercial allergen extracts. Respiratory and allergic symptoms were assessed using a self-administered questionnaire to parents and bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR) was measured by histamine inhalation test. We defined current asthma as BHR together with symptoms of wheeze in the 12 months prior to study. Children with one or more positive skin weals of geqslant R: gt-or-equal, slanted3 mm had significantly more recent wheeze, hayfever, eczema and BHR than children with smaller weals (P<0.001). In each area, 95–97% of all atopic children were sensitized to one of the following seven allergens: house dust, Dermatophagoidesfarinae, D. pteronyssinus, cat dander, plantain, rye grass, and Alternaria tenuis. Thus, these seven selected allergen extracts and a skin weal of 3 mm could be used to detect clinically relevant atopy in these populations of children. Sensitivity to house dust mite had the strongest independent association with current asthma in all three areas. The associations of other allergen sensitivities with BHR or current asthma were area dependent, indicating the influence of local allergen levels on respiratory illness in children. The potency of house dust mite sensitivity in increasing the risk of children having BHR and current asthma is confirmed.