Background There is limited knowledge of the development of IgE-antibody levels over time in childhood, with respect to persistency and co-sensitization to specific inhalant allergens.
Methods Data from 2033 children participating in the BAMSE birth cohort was used. Background factors and clinical parameters were obtained and IgE antibody (ab) levels to eight common airborne allergens were measured (0.35 kUA/L) when the children were 4 and 8 years of age.
Results Between 4 and 8 years the proportion of children sensitized to any of the inhalant allergens tested increased from 15% to 25%. At 4 years IgE-ab to birch and cat dominated, whereas at the age of 8, there was a considerable increase in the proportion of sensitization to timothy and dog. Except for mites and moulds, IgE-ab levels to all aeroallergens increased significantly between 4 and 8 years among those already sensitized at 4. Transient sensitization to inhalant allergen was uncommon. Furthermore, sensitization to birch pollen at 4 years increased the risk for becoming sensitized to timothy, cat and dog later in life. Such an association was not observed among those sensitized primarily to animal dander.
Conclusions There is a prominent process of sensitization at pre-school age to inhalant allergens, and in Northern Europe sensitization to birch pollen early in life seems to be important for this process. Such a process has a probable impact on the development of allergic disease in the growing child.