Background Previous studies measuring the prevalence of allergen sensitization have been relatively small and used small numbers of allergens. To effectively evaluate children with atopic disease, we need an accurate knowledge of which allergens are important.
Objective To measure the prevalence of sensitization within a large unselected birth cohort, to examine the associations between sensitization to different allergens and determine whether atopy can be defined by a small panel of allergens.
Methods The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is a population-based birth cohort of 13 638 singletons surviving to 4 weeks of age. The cohort was skin tested at 7 years of age to house dust mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus), grass pollens, cat, peanuts, mixed tree nuts and egg and one of three other panels: animal danders, foods or aeroallergens. Sensitization was defined as a weal diameter of 3 mm. The strength of associations between sensitization to different allergens was tested by calculating the odds ratio adjusted for sensitization to D. pteronyssinus and grass pollen and gender.
Results Valid data were obtained from 6412 singletons. Sensitization was most common to aeroallergens: grass pollens (8.5%), D. pteronyssinus (7.8%), cat (4.9%), D. farinae (3.6%), dog (2.7%), horse (1.4%), rabbit (1.4%). Of the foods tested, the most common sensitization was to peanut (1.4%) and mixed tree nuts (1.0%). More than 95% of subjects with sensitization to any of the 29 allergens tested were sensitized to one of grass, D. pteronyssinus or cat allergen. There were strong associations of multiple sensitizations both within and between different allergen classes (pollens, animals, foods, peanut and tree nuts).
Conclusions Seven-year-old children in the UK are primarily sensitized to aeroallergens, but also to peanuts and tree nuts. There are strong associations between sensitization within allergen groups as well as between allergen groups. Further studies are required to observe whether similar associations are seen with clinical allergy to these allergens.