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Keywords:

  • asthma;
  • preschool children;
  • prevalence;
  • risk factors

Summary

Background Published epidemiological data suggested that asthma and allergies may be increasing in preschool children. Identification of the risk factors is important for planning possible early intervention to prevent asthma. This study was designed to measure the prevalence of, and risk factors for, asthma and atopic disorders in preschool children from Hong Kong.

Methods Children aged 2–6 years living in Hong Kong were recruited through the local nurseries and kindergartens for this study to ascertain the presence of symptoms of asthma and various possible risk factors. The parental questionnaire was developed based on the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood questionnaire.

Results A total of 3089 children (1506 boys) from 14 nurseries and kindergartens participated in this study. The prevalence of wheeze ever and current wheeze were 16.7% and 9.3%. Two hundred and thirty-four subjects were born in mainland China and migrated to Hong Kong subsequently. When compared with children born and raised in Hong Kong, children born in mainland China had significantly lower prevalence of current wheeze (3.4% vs. 9.6%, P<0.01). Two environmental factors in the first year of life were associated with wheezing attacks within the last 12 months. They were the use of foam pillow (Odds ratio: 1.45; 95% Confidence interval: 1.04–2.00) and the use of gas as cooking fuel (1.68; 1.03–2.75). Frequent use of paracetamol was also associated with wheezing attack in the past 12 months.

Conclusions This study confirms the high prevalence of symptoms of atopic disorders in preschool children from Hong Kong. Early environmental exposure factors are important determinants of subsequent development of asthma symptoms in the preschool years. Further studies are needed to evaluate the possible pathogenetic role of the identified risk factors.