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Socioeconomic status and prevalence of allergic rhinitis and atopic eczema symptoms in young adolescents


Dr M. J. Mercer, Department of Paediatrics, School of Child and Adolescent Health, Red Cross Children's Hospital, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa
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Environmental factors are known to influence the development of allergic rhinitis and atopic eczema in genetically susceptible individuals. Socioeconomic status (SES) may be an important indicator of risk for these conditions. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase 1 written questionnaire was used to determine the prevalence and severity of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and atopic eczema symptoms in 4947 pupils aged 13–14 years attending 30 schools in socioeconomically diverse areas of Cape Town. Home addresses were used to stratify participants into five SES bands. Relationships between symptom prevalence and severity, and SES, recent urbanization and upward socioeconomic mobility were examined. Logistic regression was used to generate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) in order to assess overall trends by SES. The prevalences of self-reported allergic rhinitis symptoms and recurrent itchy rash in the past year were 33.2% and 11.9% respectively. Girls had a significantly higher prevalence of all symptoms than boys. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis symptoms increased from lowest to highest SES (overall OR for rhinitis symptoms in past year = 1.16, 95% CI 1.11–1.21). There was no significant trend in reported eczema symptoms by SES other than for the question, ‘Have you ever had eczema’ (OR = 0.88, 95% CI 0.83–0.93). Longer period of urbanization was weakly associated only with recurrent itchy skin rash (OR = 1.05, 95% CI 1.01–1.09). ‘Socially mobile’ pupils, i.e. those resident in the lowest SES areas but attending highest SES schools showed significantly higher prevalences of eczema and some rhinitis symptoms than pupils attending lowest SES schools. These findings may reflect differences in reporting related to language, culture and access to medical care rather than real differences in prevalence.