• asthma;
  • atopy;
  • childhood;
  • chronic or recurrent rhinitis;
  • eczema;
  • epidemiology;
  • Greece;
  • prevalence;
  • rhinoconjunctivitis;
  • time trend

The prevalence of allergic rhinitis, hay fever and eczema has risen worldwide during the last four decades but may have reached a plateau in some westernized societies. We examined time trends in the prevalence of childhood chronic or recurrent rhinitis, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema in urban Greece. Using identical methodology, three population-based cross-sectional parental questionnaire surveys on current (last two years) and lifetime allergic symptoms of the nose, eyes and skin were performed among 8–10-yr-old children in 1991, 1998 and 2003 in Patras, Greece. Exactly 2417, 3006 and 2725 questionnaires were completed in 1991, 1998 and 2003, respectively. Prevalence rates of current (lifetime) symptoms of chronic or recurrent rhinitis were 5.1% (6.0%) for 1991, 6.5% (8.0%) for 1998 and 8.0% (9.8%) for 2003. Respective values for rhinoconjunctivitis were 1.8% (2.1%), 2.7% (3.4%) and 3.6% (4.6%) and for eczema 2.5% (4.5%), 3.4% (6.3%) and 5.0% (9.5%) (p for trend <0.001). Among current asthmatics there was an increase in lifetime rhinitis (p = 0.038), current (p = 0.025) and lifetime rhinoconjunctivitis (p = 0.007) and current (p = 0.001) and lifetime eczema (p < 0.001); male predominance increased throughout the study. The proportion of atopic asthma (current asthma with chronic or recurrent rhinitis and/or rhinoconjunctivitis and/or eczema) increased during the same period (p < 0.001). In conclusion, there is a continuous increase in the prevalence of allergic manifestations among preadolescent children in Patras, Greece during the period 1991–2003. In our population, boys have contributed to this increase more than girls and the increase of atopy is, at least partially, responsible for the increase of asthma.