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Eczema, atopy and allergen exposure in adults: a population-based study


Dr D. Jarvis, Respiratory Epidemiology and Public Health Group, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, Emmanuel Kaye Building, Manresa Road, London SW3 6LR, UK. E-mail:


Background There are few published studies on geographical variation in prevalence of eczema in adults or its association with recognised risk factors for allergic disease.

Objective To describe the geographical variation in prevalence of eczema in adults, assess the associations with sociodemographic risk factors, serum-specific IgE and IgG, and exposure to allergen.

Methods A community-based sample of 8206 adults aged 27–56 years, in 25 European centres and Portland, USA, provided questionnaire information on symptoms of eczema. Serum-specific IgE to house dust mite (HDM), cat, grass and Cladosporium, and IgG and IgG4 to HDM and cat were measured. Mattress levels of mite and cat allergen were assessed.

Results Overall prevalence of eczema was 7.1% (range between countries of 2.2–17.6%). Eczema was associated with female gender [odds ratio (OR) 1.25; 95% confidence interval (CI) (1.01–1.55)], family history of atopic disease (OR 1.43; 95% CI 1.18–1.74), IgE sensitization to at least one allergen (OR 1.50; 95% CI 1.19–1.90), particularly Cladosporium (OR 3.65; 95% CI 1.81–7.37), and total IgE. Eczema was negatively associated with age and no clear associations were observed with sibship size, mattress mite and cat allergen levels or with cat and HDM-specific IgG or IgG4.

Conclusions There is geographical variation in the prevalence of eczema in adults both within and between countries. Although the disease is associated with IgE sensitization, in this study it was not related to mattress mite or cat allergen levels.