ETAC (Early Treatment of the Atopic Child), a multi-centre predominantly European study to investigate the potential for cetirizine to prevent the development of asthma in infants with atopic dermatitis has completed enrolment: 817 children have been randomised to 18 months' treatment with either active or placebo and a subsequent 18 months of post-treatment follow-up. Results of the therapeutic effects will not be available for some time, but the study has provided an opportunity to investigate influences on sensitization to allergens in a large cohort of 1-2 years olds with already established atopic dermatitis, resident in different countries and in different environments.
The study shows that in infants with atopic dermatitis, raised serum total IgE has significantly different determinants from that a specific allergen sensitization. In infancy, increased total IgE is more affected by factors increasing risk of intercurrent infection and non-specific airway inflammation, such as environmental tobacco smoke exposure (p < 0.001) and the use of gas cookers (p=0.02). Specific allergen sensitization as represented by detectable IgE antibodies is influenced primarily by allergen exposure. In Sweden, low level exposure to allergens is associated with reduced specific allergen sensitization rates even though the infants already have atopic dermatitis.