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Keywords:

  • allergy;
  • asthma;
  • child;
  • prevalence;
  • risk factors

Abstract

Background:  Recent data suggest that the previously rising trend in childhood wheezing symptoms has plateaued in some regions. We sought to investigate sex-specific trends in wheeze, asthma, allergic conditions, allergic sensitization and risk factors for wheeze.

Methods:  We compared two population-based cohorts of 7 to 8-year olds from the same Swedish towns in 1996 and 2006 using parental expanded ISAAC questionnaires. In 1996, 3430 (97%) and in 2006, 2585 (96%) questionnaires were completed. A subset was skin prick tested: in 1996, 2148 (88%) and in 2006, 1700 (90%) children participated.

Results:  No significant change in the prevalence of current wheeze (P = 0.13), allergic rhinitis (P = 0.18) or eczema (P = 0.22) was found despite an increase in allergic sensitization (20.6–29.9%, P < 0.01). In boys, however, the prevalence of current wheeze (12.9–16.4%, P < 0.01), physician-diagnosed asthma (7.1–9.3%, P = 0.03) and asthma medication use increased. In girls the prevalence of current symptoms and conditions tended to decrease. The prevalence of all studied risk factors for wheeze and asthma increased in boys relative to girls from 1996 to 2006, thus increasing the boy-to-girl prevalence ratio in risk factors.

Conclusions:  The previously reported increase in current wheezing indices has plateaued in Sweden. Due to increased diagnostic activity, physician diagnoses continue to increase. Time trends in wheezing symptoms differed between boys and girls, and current wheeze increased in boys. This was seemingly explained by the observed increases in the prevalence of risk factors for asthma in boys compared with girls. In contrast to the current symptoms of wheeze, rhinitis or eczema, the prevalence of allergic sensitization increased considerably.