• European Community Respiratory Health Survey;
  • geographical variation;
  • skin prick tests;
  • standardized prevalence

Background:  Many studies have reported the prevalence of sensitization using skin prick tests. However, comparisons between studies and between regions are difficult because the number and the type of allergens tested vary widely. Using the European Community Health Respiratory Survey I data, the geographical variation of sensitization to environmental allergen as measured by skin tests was established.

Methods:  Adults aged 20–44 years, living in 35 centres in 15 developed countries, underwent skin tests for allergy to nine common aeroallergens: Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, timothy grass, cat, Cladosporium herbarium, Alternaria alternata, birch, Olea europea, common ragweed and Parietaria judaica. The age–sex standardized prevalence of sensitization was determined and centres with high (95% confidence interval above and excluding study median) and low prevalence (95% confidence interval below and excluding study median) of sensitization to each allergen and to any of the nine allergens were identified.

Results:  There was substantial geographical variation in the prevalence of sensitization to each of the nine allergens tested and in the prevalence of sensitization to any allergen (lowest 17.1%, median 36.8% and highest 54.8%). Sensitization to D. pteronyssinus, grass pollen and cat were usually the most prevalent (median between centre 21.7%, 16.9% and 8.8%, respectively). Timothy grass sensitization was higher than that for any other pollen species.

Conclusions:  As expected, geographical variations of sensitization to environmental allergen were observed across centres. These findings were compatible for those observed with serum-specific IgE. Skin tests can be used to assess the geographical distribution of allergens in a multicentric epidemiological survey.