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1.  Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm and Atopy in Ghana: Two Surveys Ten Years Apart 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(2):e70.
Background
Asthma and allergic diseases have increased in the developed countries. It is important to determine whether the same trends are occurring in the developing countries in Africa. We aimed to determine the time trend in the prevalence of exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB) and atopic sensitisation over a ten-year period in Ghanaian schoolchildren.
Methods and Findings
Two surveys conducted using the same methodology ten years apart (1993 and 2003) among schoolchildren aged 9–16 years attending urban rich (UR), urban poor (UP), and rural (R) schools. Exercise provocation consisted of free running for six minutes. Children were skin tested to mite, cat, and dog allergen. 1,095 children were exercised in 1993 and 1,848 in 2003; 916 were skin tested in 1993 and 1,861 in 2003. The prevalence of EIB increased from 3.1% (95% CI 2.2%–4.3%) to 5.2% (4.3%–6.3%); absolute percentage increase 2.1% (95% CI 0.6%–3.5%, p < 0.01); among UR, UP, and R children EIB had approximately doubled from 4.2%, 1.4%, and 2.2% to 8.3%, 3.0% and 3.9% respectively. The prevalence of sensitisation had also doubled from 10.6%, 4.7%, and 4.4% to 20.2%, 10.3%, and 9.9% (UR, UP, and R respectively). Mite sensitisation remained unchanged (5.6% versus 6.4%), but sensitisation to cat and dog increased considerably from 0.7% and 0.3% to 4.6% and 3.1%, respectively. In the multiple logistic regression analysis, sensitisation (odds ratio [OR] 1.77, 95% CI 1.12–2.81), age (OR 0.88, 95% CI 0.79–0.98), school (the risk being was significantly lower in UP and R schools: OR 0.40, 95% CI 0.23–0.68 and OR 0.54, 95% CI 0.34–0.86, respectively) and year of the study (OR 1.73, 95% CI 1.13–2.66) remained significant and independent associates of EIB.
Conclusions
The prevalence of both EIB and sensitisation has approximately doubled over the ten-year period amongst 9- to 16-year-old Ghanaian children irrespective of location, with both EIB and atopy being more common among the UR than the UP and R children.
The prevalence of both exercise-induced bronchospasm and sensitisation has approximately doubled over the ten-year period amongst 9- to 16-year-old Ghanaian children
Editors' Summary
Background.
The proportion of children with asthma is thought to be increasing worldwide, and particularly among children that live in more developed countries. However, it is not clear why this is, since many different aspects of lifestyle and the environment have been linked with the onset of asthma. In Africa, asthma has typically been thought of as being very uncommon, and indeed in many African dialects there is no word for asthma or the symptoms, such as wheezing, that asthmatic children experience. However, some research studies have suggested that asthma might be becoming more common in Africa and that this could be linked to ongoing economic and social changes.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers here wanted to understand whether the trend for childhood asthma to be on the increase worldwide was also the case in Africa. Economic growth is bringing about rapid changes in lifestyle in many developing countries, and at the same time the burden of disease is changing. In order to make sure that health systems are appropriately resourced, it's important to anticipate future changes in the burden of different diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This study was based on a comparison between two surveys, carried out ten years apart, of children attending three schools in Ghana's second largest city, Kumasi. The surveys were done in 1993 and 2003, and the schools surveyed were a rich city school, a poor city school, and a school in the nearby countryside. The same methods were used in the two different surveys. Importantly, the researchers used an exercise test as an indicator for asthma, because language differences meant they could not find out whether children were indeed asthmatic. In the exercise test, the schoolchildren ran outdoors for six minutes, and the researchers measured how fast the children could breathe out before and after exercise (their “peak flow”). Children whose drop in peak flow was more than 12.5% were classified as having exercise-induced bronchospasm, which is thought to predict asthma. The children were also tested for their response to extracts that commonly cause allergic reactions, such as from dust mites and cat and dog hair. 1,095 children were studied in 1993 and 1,848 in 2003, paralleling the growth of the city, which also meant that by 2003 the rural school had become incorporated into the city. Over this period of time, the proportion of children with exercise-induced bronchospasm increased in all three schools; overall this proportion went up from 3.1% to 5.2%. Children from the rich city school were most likely to have exercise-induced bronchospasm at either survey date. However, children from the poor city school experienced the biggest change over the time period studied, with more than double the proportion of children having exercise-induced bronchospasm in 2003 as compared to 1993. The researchers also saw similar trends in children who had allergic reactions to common substances.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers observed substantial increases in the rate of exercise-induced bronchospasm, and allergic reactions, between the two survey dates. This finding suggests that asthma is likely to have become much more common in that time. However, exercise-induced bronchospasm is not an exact indicator of asthma so it is not possible to be certain about this. These changes are likely to be linked with the adoption of westernized lifestyles, but which precise factors are responsible for the increase is not clear. Factors linked to the development of asthma include a lower rate of childhood infections, a lower rate of breast-feeding, environmental pollution, and many others. Links between the increase in exercise-induced bronchospasm and any of these factors were not examined in this study. However, these results suggest that if the findings here are common to other African cities as well, a greater proportion of African health budgets will need to be devoted to asthma care in the future.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040070.
Wikipedia has an entry on asthma (Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia anyone can edit)
The World Health Organization's Ghana minisite has information on this country
Patient information from NHS Direct on asthma
An accompanying PLoS Medicine Essay by Matthias Wjst and Daniel Boakye discusses research on asthma in Africa
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040070
PMCID: PMC1808098  PMID: 17326711
2.  Preterm Birth and Childhood Wheezing Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001596.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Jasper Been and colleagues investigate the association between preterm birth and the development of wheezing disorders in childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Accumulating evidence implicates early life factors in the aetiology of non-communicable diseases, including asthma/wheezing disorders. We undertook a systematic review investigating risks of asthma/wheezing disorders in children born preterm, including the increasing numbers who, as a result of advances in neonatal care, now survive very preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
Two reviewers independently searched seven online databases for contemporaneous (1 January 1995–23 September 2013) epidemiological studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders. Additional studies were identified through reference and citation searches, and contacting international experts. Quality appraisal was undertaken using the Effective Public Health Practice Project instrument. We pooled unadjusted and adjusted effect estimates using random-effects meta-analysis, investigated “dose–response” associations, and undertook subgroup, sensitivity, and meta-regression analyses to assess the robustness of associations.
We identified 42 eligible studies from six continents. Twelve were excluded for population overlap, leaving 30 unique studies involving 1,543,639 children. Preterm birth was associated with an increased risk of wheezing disorders in unadjusted (13.7% versus 8.3%; odds ratio [OR] 1.71, 95% CI 1.57–1.87; 26 studies including 1,500,916 children) and adjusted analyses (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.29–1.65; 17 studies including 874,710 children). The risk was particularly high among children born very preterm (<32 wk gestation; unadjusted: OR 3.00, 95% CI 2.61–3.44; adjusted: OR 2.81, 95% CI 2.55–3.12). Findings were most pronounced for studies with low risk of bias and were consistent across sensitivity analyses. The estimated population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was ≥3.1%.
Key limitations related to the paucity of data from low- and middle-income countries, and risk of residual confounding.
Conclusions
There is compelling evidence that preterm birth—particularly very preterm birth—increases the risk of asthma. Given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions.
Review Registration
PROSPERO CRD42013004965
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks, but worldwide, more than 11% of babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb). Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death—more than 1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications—and the number of preterm births is increasing globally. Multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic (long-term) maternal conditions such as diabetes can all cause premature birth, but the cause of many preterm births is unknown. The most obvious immediate complication that is associated with preterm birth is respiratory distress syndrome. This breathing problem, which is more common in early preterm babies than in near-term babies, occurs because the lungs of premature babies are structurally immature and lack pulmonary surfactant, a unique mixture of lipids and proteins that coats the inner lining of the lungs and helps to prevent the collapse of the small air sacs in the lungs that absorb oxygen from the air. Consequently, preterm babies often need help with their breathing and oxygen supplementation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Improvements in the management of prematurity mean that more preterm babies survive today than in the past. However, accumulating evidence suggests that early life events are involved in the subsequent development of non-communicable diseases (non-infectious chronic diseases). Given the increasing burden of preterm birth, a better understanding of the long-term effects of preterm birth is essential. Here, the researchers investigate the risks of asthma and wheezing disorders in children who are born preterm by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies). Asthma is a chronic condition that is caused by inflammation of the airways. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur and to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can sometimes be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing), coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 30 studies undertaken between 1995 and the present (a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity) that investigated the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders in more than 1.5 million children. Across the studies, 13.7% of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders during childhood, compared to only 8.3% of babies born at term. Thus, the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.71 times higher than the risk of term babies developing these conditions (an unadjusted odds ratio [OR] of 1.71). In analyses that allowed for confounding factors—other factors that affect the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders such as maternal smoking—the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.46 times higher than that of babies born at term (an adjusted OR of 1.46). Notably, compared to children born at term, children born very early (before 32 weeks of gestation) had about three times the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders in unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Finally, the population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was more than 3.1%. That is, if no preterm births had occurred, there would have been more than a 3.1% reduction in childhood wheezing disorders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings strongly suggest that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood and that the risk of asthma/wheezing disorders increases as the degree of prematurity increases. The accuracy of these findings may be affected, however, by residual confounding. That is, preterm children may share other, unknown characteristics that increase their risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders. Moreover, the generalizability of these findings is limited by the lack of data from low- and middle-income countries. However, given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, these findings highlight the need to undertake research into the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders and the need to develop appropriate preventative and therapeutic measures.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
Nemours, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information (in English and Spanish) on premature babies and on asthma (including personal stories)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about premature labor and birth and a real story about having a preterm baby; it provides information about asthma in children (including real stories)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on preterm birth, asthma, asthma in children, and wheezing (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to further information on premature birth, asthma, and asthma in children (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596
PMCID: PMC3904844  PMID: 24492409
3.  Parental and neonatal risk factors for atopy, airway hyper-responsiveness, and asthma. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1996;75(5):392-398.
BACKGROUND: Previous studies have not resolved the importance of several potential risk factors for the development of childhood atopy, airway hyperresponsiveness, and wheezing, which would allow the rational selection of interventions to reduce morbidity from asthma. Risk factors for these disorders were examined in a birth cohort of 1037 New Zealand children. METHODS: Responses to questions on respiratory symptoms and measurements of lung function and airway responsiveness were obtained every two to three years throughout childhood and adolescence, with over 85% cohort retention at age 18 years. Atopy was determined by skin prick tests at age 13 years. Relations between parental and neonatal factors, the development of atopy, and features of asthma were determined by comparison of proportions and logistic regression. RESULTS: Male sex was a significant independent predictor for atopy, airway hyper-responsiveness, hay fever, and asthma. A positive family history, especially maternal, of asthma strongly predicted childhood atopy, airway hyperresponsiveness, asthma, and hay fever. Maternal smoking in the last trimester was correlated with the onset of childhood asthma by the age of 1 year. Birth in the winter season increased the risk of sensitisation to cats. Among those with a parental history of asthma or hay fever, birth in autumn and winter also increased the risk of sensitisation to house dust mites. The number of siblings, position in the family, socioeconomic status, and birth weight were not consistently predictive of any characteristic of asthma. CONCLUSIONS: Male sex, parental atopy, and maternal smoking during pregnancy are risk factors for asthma in young children. Children born in winter exhibit a greater prevalence of sensitisation to cats and house dust mites. These data suggest possible areas for intervention in children at risk because of parental atopy.
PMCID: PMC1511782  PMID: 8957951
4.  Study of modifiable risk factors for asthma exacerbations: virus infection and allergen exposure increase the risk of asthma hospital admissions in children 
Thorax  2005;61(5):376-382.
Background
Asthma exacerbation is the most common cause of hospital admission in children. A study was undertaken to investigate the importance of allergen exposure in sensitised individuals in combination with viral infections and other potentially modifiable risk factors precipitating asthma hospital admission in children.
Methods
Eighty four children aged 3–17 years admitted to hospital over a 1 year period with an acute asthma exacerbation (AA) were matched for age and sex with two control groups: stable asthmatics (SA) and children admitted to hospital with non‐respiratory conditions (IC). Risk factors were assessed by questionnaires and determination of allergen sensitisation, home allergen exposure, pollen exposure, and respiratory virus infection.
Results
Several non‐modifiable factors (atopy, duration of asthma) were associated with increased risk. Among the modifiable factors, pet ownership, housing characteristics, and parental smoking did not differ between the groups. Regular inhaled corticosteroid treatment was significantly less common in the AA group than in the SA group (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.6; p = 0.002). A significantly higher proportion of the AA group were virus infected (44%) and sensitised and highly exposed to sensitising allergen (76%) compared with the SA (18% and 48%) and IC groups (17% and 28%; both p<0.001). In a multiple conditional logistic regression (AA v SA), allergen sensitisation and exposure or virus detection alone were no longer independently associated with hospital admission. However, the combination of virus detection and sensitisation with high allergen exposure substantially increased the risk of admission to hospital (OR 19.4, 95% CI 3.7 to 101.5, p<0.001).
Conclusions
Natural virus infection and real life allergen exposure in allergic asthmatic children increase the risk of hospital admission. Strategies for preventing exacerbations will need to address these factors.
doi:10.1136/thx.2005.042523
PMCID: PMC2111190  PMID: 16384881
asthma; inhaled allergens; viruses; atopy; children; hospitalisation
5.  Mite, cat, and cockroach exposure, allergen sensitisation, and asthma in children: a case-control study of three schools 
Thorax  1999;54(8):675-680.
BACKGROUND—The amount of allergen necessary to sensitise genetically "at risk" children is unclear. The relation between allergen exposure and asthma is also uncertain.
METHODS—To ensure a wide range of allergen exposures the data from case-control studies of asthma in children aged 12-14 years attending three schools in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Central Virginia were combined. Skin prick tests to indoor and outdoor allergens and bronchial hyperreactivity to histamine were assessed in children with and without symptoms of asthma. The concentration of mite, cat, and cockroach allergens in dust from the children's homes was used as a marker of exposure.
RESULTS—Three hundred and thirty two children (157 with asthmatic symptoms and 175 controls) were investigated. One hundred and eighty three were classified as atopic on the basis of allergen skin prick tests and 68 as asthmatic (symptoms plus bronchial responsiveness). The prevalence and degree of sensitisation to mite and cockroach, but not cat, was strongly associated in atopic children with increasing domestic concentrations of these allergens. Asthma was strongly associated with sensitisation to indoor allergens (p<10-6) and weakly to outdoor allergens (p = 0.026). There was an association between current asthma and the concentration of mite allergen amongst atopic children (p = 0.008) but not amongst those who were specifically mite sensitised (p = 0.16).
CONCLUSIONS—The domestic reservoir concentration of mite and cockroach, but not cat, allergen was closely related to the prevalence of sensitisation in atopic children. However, the prevalence of current asthma had a limited relationship to these allergen measurements, suggesting that other factors play a major part in determining which allergic individuals develop asthma.


PMCID: PMC1745561  PMID: 10413718
6.  Allergic airway disease in Italian bakers and pastry makers. 
A survey was carried out on respiratory symptoms and skin prick test response to common allergens (atopy), storage mites, and occupational allergens among 226 bakers and pastry makers from 105 small businesses in northern Italy. Atopy was present in 54 workers (23.4%); 40 workers (17.7%) were skin positive to at least one storage mite, 27 (11.9%) to wheat flour and 17 (7.5%) to alpha-amylase. Work related asthma was reported by 11 (4.9%) workers and rhinoconjunctivitis by 31 (17.7%); 22 workers (10.2%) complained of chronic bronchitis. The distribution of skin prick test results among bakers and among 119 white collar workers did not indicate (by logistic analysis) an increased risk for bakers to skin sensitisation to common allergens, storage mite, or to a group of five flours. Sensitisation to wheat flour, on the other hand, was present only among exposed workers. Skin sensitisation to occupational allergens was significantly associated with atopy (p < 0.001), smoking habit (p = 0.015), and work seniority (p = 0.027). The risk of work related symptoms was associated with sensitisation to wheat or alpha-amylase, and with atopy, but not with sensitisation to storage mites, work seniority, or smoking habit. The results of the study indicate that there is still a significant risk of allergic respiratory disease among Italian bakers. Not only wheat allergens, but also alpha-amylase must be considered as causative agents, although sensitisation to storage mites is not important in the occupational allergic response. Atopy must be regarded as an important predisposing factor for skin sensitisation to occupational allergens and for the onset of symptoms at work. The data confirm that for effective prevention, greater care should be taken not only in limiting environmental exposure, but also in identifying susceptible people.
PMCID: PMC1128035  PMID: 7951780
7.  Factors influencing the relation of infant feeding to asthma and recurrent wheeze in childhood 
Thorax  2001;56(3):192-197.
BACKGROUND—The relationship between infant feeding and childhood asthma is controversial. This study tested the hypothesis that the relation between breast feeding and childhood asthma is altered by the presence of maternal asthma.
METHODS—Healthy non-selected newborn infants (n=1246) were enrolled at birth. Asthma was defined as a physician diagnosis of asthma plus asthma symptoms reported on ⩾2 questionnaires at 6, 9, 11or 13 years. Recurrent wheeze (⩾4 episodes in the past year) was reported by questionnaire at seven ages in the first 13 years of life. Duration of exclusive breast feeding was based on prospective physician reports or parental questionnaires completed at 18 months. Atopy was assessed by skin test responses at the age of 6years.
RESULTS—The relationship between breast feeding, asthma, and wheeze differed with the presence or absence of maternal asthma and atopy in the child. After adjusting for confounders, children with asthmatic mothers were significantly more likely to have asthma if they had been exclusively breast fed (OR 8.7, 95% CI 3.4 to 22.2). This relationship was only evident for atopic children and persisted after adjusting for confounders. In contrast, the relation between recurrent wheeze and breast feeding was age dependent. In the first 2 years of life exclusive breast feeding was associated with significantly lower rates of recurrent wheeze (OR 0.45, 95% CI 0.2 to 0.9), regardless of the presence or absence of maternal asthma or atopy in the child. Beginning at the age of 6 years, exclusive breast feeding was unrelated to prevalence of recurrent wheeze, except for children with asthmatic mothers in whom it was associated with a higher odds ratio for wheeze (OR 5.7, 95% CI 2.3 to 14.1), especially if the child was atopic.
CONCLUSION—The relationship between breast feeding and asthma or recurrent wheeze varies with the age of the child and the presence or absence of maternal asthma and atopy in the child. While associated with protection against recurrent wheeze early in life, breast feeding is associated with an increased risk of asthma and recurrent wheeze beginning at the age of 6 years, but only for atopic children with asthmatic mothers.


doi:10.1136/thorax.56.3.192
PMCID: PMC1758780  PMID: 11182011
8.  Maternal asthma, premature birth, and the risk of respiratory morbidity in schoolchildren in Merseyside. 
Thorax  1995;50(5):525-530.
BACKGROUND--A study was carried out to analyse the impact of maternal asthma on the risk of preterm delivery and the contribution of preterm delivery to the development of childhood asthma. METHODS--Two cross sectional community studies of 1872 children (5-11 years) in 1991 and 3746 children in 1993 were performed. A respiratory health questionnaire was distributed throughout 15 schools in Merseyside and completed by the parents of the children. RESULTS--Asthmatic mothers were more likely to have a preterm delivery than non-asthmatic mothers (odds ratio (OR) 1.49; 95% CI 1.10 to 2.02). Smoking was a separate risk factor for preterm delivery (OR 1.35; 95% CI 1.10 to 1.65). Asthmatic mothers did not have an increased risk of delivering small, growth retarded babies. Maternal asthma, paternal asthma, and premature birth, in that order, increased the risk of later childhood respiratory morbidity (OR 3.13, 95% CI 2.36 to 4.16; 2.23, 95% CI 1.62 to 3.05; 1.40, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.79). Conversely, babies who were small for gestational age appeared less likely to develop doctor diagnosed asthma or the symptom triad of cough, wheeze, and breathlessness in childhood, although this was not statistically significant (OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.28 to 1.41). CONCLUSIONS--Maternal smoking during pregnancy and maternal asthma are independent risk factors associated with preterm delivery. Asthma in mothers predisposes to preterm delivery but not fetal growth retardation. Preterm birth, but not growth retardation, predisposes the child to the development of subsequent asthma.
PMCID: PMC1021223  PMID: 7597666
9.  Early allergen exposure, skin prick responses, and atopic wheeze at age 5 in English children: a cohort study 
Thorax  2004;59(10):855-861.
Background: For many years it has been assumed that the risk of childhood respiratory allergies is related to allergen exposures in early life. There are, however, few prospective data in support. We aimed to examine this relationship in a representative cohort of children born in Ashford, Kent (UK).
Methods: 625 children (94% of those eligible) were followed from birth to the age of 5.5 years at which time 552 underwent skin prick testing to extracts of house dust mite and cat fur allergens. Maternal reports of wheeze in the last year were collected by interview. These outcomes were related to individual domestic concentrations of Der p 1 and Fel d I allergens estimated from dust collection at the age of 8 weeks.
Results: 10% of children were sensitised to house dust mite or cat at age 5.5 years; 7% had atopic wheeze. No significant relationships between allergen exposure and either sensitisation or wheeze were found but, on examination, the exposure-response relationships for both allergens and for each outcome rose steeply at low levels of exposure and were attenuated at high levels of exposure. These patterns were modified by paternal atopy and by birth order.
Conclusions: There are no linear relationships between early allergen exposure and the induction of childhood respiratory allergy; rather, the risks of IgE sensitisation and asthma rise at very low levels of exposure and are attenuated thereafter. These patterns are influenced by parental atopy and birth order. These findings suggest important gene-environment interactions in the development of atopy and asthma and imply that reductions in domestic allergen exposure alone are unlikely to have a major impact in decreasing the incidence of these diseases in childhood.
doi:10.1136/thx.2003.019877
PMCID: PMC1746847  PMID: 15454651
10.  Gene-Environment Interaction in the Onset of Eczema in Infancy: Filaggrin Loss-of-Function Mutations Enhanced by Neonatal Cat Exposure  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e131.
Background
Loss-of-function variants in the gene encoding filaggrin (FLG) are major determinants of eczema. We hypothesized that weakening of the physical barrier in FLG-deficient individuals may potentiate the effect of environmental exposures. Therefore, we investigated whether there is an interaction between FLG loss-of-function mutations with environmental exposures (pets and dust mites) in relation to the development of eczema.
Methods and Findings
We used data obtained in early life in a high-risk birth cohort in Denmark and replicated the findings in an unselected birth cohort in the United Kingdom. Primary outcome was age of onset of eczema; environmental exposures included pet ownership and mite and pet allergen levels. In Copenhagen (n = 379), FLG mutation increased the risk of eczema during the first year of life (hazard ratio [HR] 2.26, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.27–4.00, p = 0.005), with a further increase in risk related to cat exposure at birth amongst children with FLG mutation (HR 11.11, 95% CI 3.79–32.60, p < 0.0001); dog exposure was moderately protective (HR 0.49, 95% CI 0.24–1.01, p = 0.05), but not related to FLG genotype. In Manchester (n = 503) an independent and significant association of the development of eczema by age 12 mo with FLG genotype was confirmed (HR 1.95, 95% CI 1.13–3.36, p = 0.02). In addition, the risk increased because of the interaction of cat ownership at birth and FLG genotype (HR 3.82, 95% CI 1.35–10.81, p = 0.01), with no significant effect of the interaction with dog ownership (HR 0.59, 95% CI 0.16–2.20, p = 0.43). Mite-allergen had no effects in either cohort. The observed effects were independent of sensitisation.
Conclusions
We have demonstrated a significant interaction between FLG loss-of-function main mutations (501x and 2282del4) and cat ownership at birth on the development of early-life eczema in two independent birth cohorts. Our data suggest that cat but not dog ownership substantially increases the risk of eczema within the first year of life in children with FLG loss-of-function variants, but not amongst those without. FLG-deficient individuals may need to avoid cats but not dogs in early life.
In two independent cohorts of children, Hans Bisgaard and colleagues show an association between mutations in the filaggrin gene (FLG) and ownership of cats, but not dogs, with development of eczema.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Eczema is a skin condition characterized by dry, red, and itchy patches on the skin. Eczema is associated with asthma and allergy, though allergy rarely plays a role in development or severity of eczema. Eczema usually begins during infancy, typically on the face, scalp, neck, extensor sides of the forearms, and legs. Up to one in five infants develops eczema, but in more than half of them, the condition improves or disappears completely before they are 15 years old. If eczema persists into adulthood, it usually affects the face and the skin inside the knees and elbows. There is no cure for eczema but it can be controlled by avoiding anything that makes its symptoms worse. These triggers include irritants such as wool, strong soaps, perfumes, and dry environments. A good skin-care routine and frequent moisturizing can also help to keep eczema under control, but in many cases, corticosteroid creams and ointments may be necessary to reduce inflammation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Eczema tends to run in families. This suggests that eczema is caused by genetic factors as well as by environmental factors. Recently, researchers discovered that two common “loss-of-function” variants in the gene encoding filaggrin (FLG) predispose people to eczema. People who inherit one or two defective genes make no filaggrin, a protein that normally forms a physical barrier in the skin that protects the body from potentially harmful substances in the environment. Might the weakening of this barrier in filaggrin-deficient individuals affect their responses to environmental substances to which the skin is exposed? In this study, the researchers test this potential explanation for how genetic and environmental factors (in particular, exposure to pets) might interact to determine an individual's chances of developing eczema.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To test their hypothesis, the researchers studied two independent groups of infants during their first year of life—a high-risk group consisting of infants born in Copenhagen, Denmark to mothers with asthma and a group of infants born to women from the general population in Manchester, United Kingdom. The researchers determined which FLG variants each child had inherited and classified those with either one or two defective copies of FLG as having an FLG mutation. They determined pet exposure in early life by asking whether a dog or a cat was living in the parental home when the child was born (“pet ownership”) and then analyzed how these genetic and environmental factors affected the age of onset of eczema. In both groups, children with FLG mutations were twice as likely to develop eczema during the first year of life as children without FLG mutations. For children without FLG mutations, cat ownership at birth had no effect on eczema risk but for children with FLG mutations, cat ownership at birth (but not dog ownership) further increased the risk of developing eczema.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that FLG mutations and cat ownership at birth interact to determine the chances of a child developing eczema during the first year of life. They provide support, therefore, for the researchers' suggestion that the weakening of the skin's protective barrier that is caused by filaggrin deficiency increases the child's susceptibility to factors associated with cat exposure. Only a small number of children in this study carried FLG mutations and were exposed to cats from birth, so these findings need confirming in independent studies. In addition, it is still not clear how exposure to cats drives the development of eczema. Allergy was not the mechanism as the FLG-deficient children exposed to cat and who developed eczema did not develop cat-specific immunoglobin E antibodies. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that, to reduce their risk of developing eczema, filaggrin-deficient individuals should avoid cats (but not dogs) during the first few months of life.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050131.
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a page on eczema (in English and Spanish); links to further information are provided by MedlinePlus
EczemaNet is a comprehensive online information resource about eczema provided by the American Academy of Dermatologists
The US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases provides information on eczema
The UK National Health Service Direct health encyclopedia provides information for patients on eczema (in several languages)
The Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC) and Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study (MAAS) Web sites provide more information about the children involved in this research
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050131
PMCID: PMC2504043  PMID: 18578563
11.  Impact of Scotland's Smoke-Free Legislation on Pregnancy Complications: Retrospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001175.
An analysis of pregnancy data for the whole of Scotland demonstrates a reduction in small-for-gestational-age births and preterm delivery since the introduction of legislation banning smoking in enclosed public spaces.
Background
Both active smoking and environmental tobacco smoke exposure are associated with pregnancy complications. In March 2006, Scotland implemented legislation prohibiting smoking in all wholly or partially enclosed public spaces. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of this legislation on preterm delivery and small for gestational age.
Methods and Findings
We conducted logistic regression analyses using national administrative pregnancy data covering the whole of Scotland. Of the two breakpoints tested, 1 January 2006 produced a better fit than the date when the legislation came into force (26 March 2006), suggesting an anticipatory effect. Among the 716,941 eligible women who conceived between August 1995 and February 2009 and subsequently delivered a live-born, singleton infant between 24 and 44 wk gestation, the prevalence of current smoking fell from 25.4% before legislation to 18.8% after legislation (p<0.001). Three months prior to the legislation, there were significant decreases in small for gestational age (−4.52%, 95% CI −8.28, −0.60, p = 0.024), overall preterm delivery (−11.72%, 95% CI −15.87, −7.35, p<0.001), and spontaneous preterm labour (−11.35%, 95% CI −17.20, −5.09, p = 0.001). In sub-group analyses, significant reductions were observed among both current and never smokers.
Conclusions
Reductions were observed in the risk of preterm delivery and small for gestational age 3 mo prior to the introduction of legislation, although the former reversed partially following the legislation. There is growing evidence of the potential for tobacco control legislation to have a positive impact on health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The risks of smoking during pregnancy, both on mother and fetus, are well established: women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have a miscarriage. Smoking can cause placental problems, such as placental abruption, which can result in heavy bleeding during pregnancy, which is dangerous for both mother and baby. Other dangers of smoking during pregnancy include the baby being born too early (premature birth), the baby being below average weight (small for gestational age), birth defects, and infant death. Because of the serious damage to health caused by smoking, in 2005, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, countries adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. Article 8 of the treaty obliges member states who have ratified the treaty—168 so far—to protect all people from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, and indoor public places. As a result, many countries around the world have banned smoking in public places.
Why Was This Study Done?
Scotland was the first country in the United Kingdom to ban smoking in public places, which was implemented as part of the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill on 26 March 2006. Previous studies have shown that the introduction of the legislation led directly to a reduction in smoking and also a reduction in environmental tobacco smoke exposure in adults and children. Furthermore, the Scottish legislation has been accompanied by significant reductions in both cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Because of the known risks of smoking during pregnancy, the researchers wanted to investigate whether the change in policy on smoking in public places had positive benefits on the health of mothers and babies. They evaluated this by measuring the rates of preterm delivery and small for gestational age before and after the Scottish legislation went into effect.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected information on preterm delivery and small for gestational age in all single babies born live at 22–44 weeks gestation between 1 January 1996 and 31 December 2009 by using the Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR2), which collects relevant information on all women discharged from Scottish maternity hospitals, including maternal and infant characteristics and pregnancy complications. The researchers categorized preterm delivery into mild, moderate, and extreme depending on how much before 37 weeks the baby was born. They defined small for gestational age as the smallest 10% (below the 10th centile) for sex-specific birth weight at delivery, and very small for gestational age as the smallest 3% (below the 3rd centile), for all deliveries in Scotland over the study period. As some people may have stopped smoking in anticipation of the smoking ban, in their statistical model, the researchers included two possible breakpoints for the effect of the legislation—the actual date of implementation and 1 January 2006.
The researchers found that of the 716,968 pregnancies (the number eligible for inclusion in the study), 99.9% of women had their smoking status recorded, and among these 23.9% were current smokers, 57.6% never smokers, and 8.7% former smokers. However, following implementation of the legislation the researchers noted that there was a significant reduction in current smokers to 18.8%. In their statistical model, the researchers found that following 1 January 2006, there was a significant drop in overall preterm deliveries, which remained after adjustment for potential confounding factors. Likewise, there was a significant decrease in the number of infants born small, and very small, for gestational age after 1 January 2006. Furthermore, the researchers found that these significant reductions occurred in both mothers who smoked and those who had never smoked.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the introduction of national, comprehensive smoke-free legislation in Scotland was associated with significant reductions in preterm delivery and babies being born small for gestational age. These findings are plausible and add to the growing evidence of the wide-ranging health benefits of smoke-free legislation, and support the adoption of such legislation in other countries that have yet to implement smoking bans.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001175.
More information is available on the World Health Organization's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control
More information on the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill is available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about the risks of smoking in pregnancy, as does the UK National Health Service's smokefree web page
NHS Health Scotland has a website that summarises all the studies to date evaluating the Scottish smoke-free legislation
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001175
PMCID: PMC3295815  PMID: 22412353
12.  Exhaled nitric oxide levels in atopic children: relation to specific allergic sensitisation, AHR, and respiratory symptoms 
Thorax  2002;57(6):518-523.
Background: Exhaled nitric oxide (eNO), which has been proposed as a measure of airway inflammation, is increased in atopic subjects. This raises the question of whether eNO provides any additional information about airway inflammation in asthmatic subjects, other than as a marker for atopy. A study was undertaken to determine whether eNO levels in a population of atopic children are associated with sensitisation or natural exposure to specific allergens, and to examine the relationship between eNO, airway responsiveness, and current respiratory symptoms.
Methods: Exhaled NO and airway responsiveness to histamine were measured in winter and in summer in 235 children aged 8–14 years who had been classified as atopic by skin prick testing. Current respiratory symptoms, defined as wheeze or cough during the month preceding the test, were measured by a parent completed questionnaire. Airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) was defined as a dose response ratio (DRR) of >8.1 (% fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1)/µmol + 3).
Results: Sensitisation to house dust mite was associated with raised eNO levels in winter while sensitisation to Cladosporium was associated with raised eNO levels in both winter and summer. Grass pollen sensitisation was not associated with raised eNO levels in either season. Exhaled NO correlated significantly with DRR histamine (r=0.43, p<0.001) independently of whether the children had current symptoms or not. In children with current wheeze, those with AHR had eNO levels 1.53 (95% CI 1.41 to 1.66) times higher than those without AHR (p=0.006). Neither DRR (p=1.0) nor eNO levels (p=0.92) differed significantly between children with or without persistent dry cough in the absence of wheeze.
Conclusions: In atopic children, raised eNO levels are associated with sensitisation to perennial allergens, but not to seasonal allergens such as grass pollen. In this population, an increase in eNO is associated with AHR and current wheezing, suggesting that eNO is more than just a marker for atopy.
doi:10.1136/thorax.57.6.518
PMCID: PMC1746345  PMID: 12037227
13.  Primary prevention of asthma and atopy during childhood by allergen avoidance in infancy: a randomised controlled study 
Thorax  2003;58(6):489-493.
Background: Recent increases in the prevalence of asthma and atopy emphasise the need for devising effective methods for primary prevention in children at high risk of atopy.
Method: A birth cohort of genetically at risk infants was recruited in 1990 to a randomised controlled study. Allergen avoidance measures were instituted from birth in the prophylactic group (n=58). Infants were either breast fed with mother on a low allergen diet or given an extensively hydrolysed formula. Exposure to house dust mite was reduced by the use of an acaricide and mattress covers. The control group (n=62) followed standard advice as normally given by the health visitors. At age 8, all 120 children completed a questionnaire and 110 (92%) had all assessments (skin prick test, spirometry, and bronchial challenges).
Results: In the prophylactic group eight children (13.8%) had current wheeze compared with 17 (27.4%) in the control group (p=0.08). Respective figures were eight (13.8%) and 20 (32.3%) for nocturnal cough (p=0.02) and 11 of 55 (20.0%) and 29 of 62 (46.8%) for atopy (p=0.003). After adjusting for confounding variables, the prophylactic group was found to be at a significantly reduced risk for current wheeze (odds ratio (OR) 0.26 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07 to 0.96)), nocturnal cough (OR 0.22 (95% CI 0.06 to 0.83)), asthma as defined by wheeze and bronchial hyperresponsiveness (OR 0.11 (95% CI 0.01 to 1.02)), and atopy (OR 0.21 (95% CI 0.07 to 0.62)).
Conclusion: Strict allergen avoidance in infancy in high risk children reduces the development of allergic sensitisation to house dust mite. Our results suggest that this may prevent some cases of childhood asthma.
doi:10.1136/thorax.58.6.489
PMCID: PMC1746711  PMID: 12775858
14.  Risk factors for respiratory symptoms and atopic sensitisation in the Baltic area. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1995;72(6):487-493.
Recent studies have indicated that atopic sensitisation is uncommon while respiratory symptoms are common among schoolchildren in Eastern Europe. Risk factors for respiratory symptoms and atopic sensitisation were evaluated in a cross sectional study involving 2594 schoolchildren (10-12 years) from Sweden (n = 665), Poland (n = 410), and Estonia (n = 1519). The measurements included parental questionnaires and skin prick tests with eight standardised allergens. Multiple logistic analyses demonstrated that atopic heredity was a significant independent risk factor for respiratory symptoms and atopic sensitisation in all the countries. Current dampness and maternal smoking were related to respiratory symptoms whereas domestic crowding, male gender, and passive smoking during infancy were related to atopic sensitisation. Current maternal smoking had a strong dose response association with current coughing attacks (nocturnal cough > 4 weeks or exercise induced coughing attacks) but only in Eastern Europe. A strong inverse relationship was recorded between domestic crowding and sensitisation as the risk for sensitisation increased with decreasing number of persons per room in the household (odds ratio (OR) 0.58, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.43 to 0.77). Exposure to tobacco smoke at home during infancy was a risk factor for atopic sensitisation but only to animal dander and only in Eastern Europe (OR 1.41, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.93). In conclusion, there were small differences in the pattern of risk factors between Eastern and Western Europe. The only exception was environmental tobacco smoke being a risk factor only in Eastern Europe. The study also suggests that factors related to domestic crowding protect against atopic sensitisation in Estonia and Poland. A higher standard of living with less crowding may give rise to an increasing prevalence of atopic sensitisation also in Eastern Europe.
PMCID: PMC1511140  PMID: 7618931
15.  The influence of sensitisation to pollens and moulds on seasonal variations in asthma attacks 
The European Respiratory Journal  2013;42(4):935-945.
No large study has described the seasonal variation in asthma attacks in population-based asthmatics in whom sensitisation to allergen has been measured.
2637 young adults with asthma living in 15 countries reported the months in which they usually had attacks of asthma and had skin-prick tests performed. Differences in seasonal patterns by sensitisation status were assessed using generalised estimating equations.
Most young adults with asthma reported periods of the year when their asthma attacks were more common (range: 47% in Sweden to 86% in Spain). Seasonal variation in asthma was not modified by sensitisation to house dust mite or cat allergens. Asthmatics sensitised to grass, birch and Alternaria allergens had different seasonal patterns to those not sensitised to each allergen, with some geographical variation. In southern Europe, those sensitised to grass allergens were more likely to report attacks occurred in spring or summer than in winter (OR March/April 2.60, 95% CI 1.70–3.97; OR May/June 4.43, 95% CI 2.34–8.39) and smaller later peaks were observed in northern Europe (OR May/June 1.25, 95% CI 0.60–2.64; OR July/August 1.66, 95% CI 0.89–3.10). Asthmatics reporting hay fever but who were not sensitised to grass showed no seasonal variations.
Seasonal variations in asthma attacks in young adults are common and are different depending on sensitisation to outdoor, but not indoor, allergens.
Seasonal variation in asthma attacks is associated with sensitisation to pollens and moulds, but not indoor allergens http://ow.ly/nsuRS
doi:10.1183/09031936.00097412
PMCID: PMC3787817  PMID: 23471350
16.  Lung function at one month of age as a risk factor for infant respiratory symptoms in a high risk population 
Thorax  2002;57(5):388-392.
Background: Abnormal premorbid lung function is a risk factor for subsequent wheezing in children with one or no atopic parent. This study was undertaken to establish whether early lung function in high risk infants (both parents atopic) was a risk factor for respiratory symptoms in infancy and to examine the influence of maternal asthma, smoking, and allergen exposure during pregnancy on any association.
Methods: Infants were recruited from the NAC Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study cohort at birth. Partial forced expiratory flow volume technique under sedation was carried out to determine maximal flow at FRC (V'maxFRC). Children were followed prospectively and parents completed a standard respiratory questionnaire at one year of age.
Results: Sixty nine term infants (34 boys; 88% mothers non-smokers; no household pets) underwent respiratory function testing. Size adjusted V'maxFRC was significantly lower in infants who had recurrent wheeze during the first year of life (mean 1.3 ml/s/cm, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.60) than in those who did not (mean 2.03 ml/s/cm, 95% CI 1.71 to 2.36; p=0.01). V'maxFRC was also significantly lower in infants who had recurrent cough symptoms. In multivariate regression analysis, when adjusted for age at test, sex, maternal asthma, smoking and maternal mattress Der 1 levels, a lower size adjusted V'maxFRC score remained strongly associated with wheezing (OR 0.37, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.77, p=0.007). Maternal smoking also remained an independent risk factor (OR 29.85, 95% CI 2.46 to 362.5, p=0.008).
Conclusion: Significantly diminished lung function was present in high risk infants who subsequently wheezed and coughed. This was independent of maternal exposure to mite allergen, asthma, and smoking during pregnancy.
doi:10.1136/thorax.57.5.388
PMCID: PMC1746314  PMID: 11978912
17.  Family structure, neonatal infection, and hay fever in adolescence. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1996;74(5):422-426.
OBJECTIVE: To determine whether increased numbers of siblings and infection in early life protect against allergic sensitisation. DESIGN: Historical cohort study. SETTING: Sheffield, UK. SUBJECTS: 11,765 children aged 11-16 years for whom a history of neonatal infectious illness had been recorded systematically at 1 month of age. METHODS: A history of hay fever and family structure was obtained by postal questionnaire; neonatal illness history was ascertained from health visitor records; 723 children underwent skin prick testing with mixed grass pollen extract. RESULTS: The prevalence of hay fever was reduced (p < 0.0001) among children of younger mothers, and those from larger families. The number of older siblings exerted a stronger independent effect than the number of younger siblings (p < 0.001). Infants breast fed exclusively during the first month were at higher risk (p < 0.05) of subsequent hay fever, independent of demographic factors. Adolescents at high risk of hay fever by virtue of their family structure were more likely to be sensitised to grass pollen (p < 0.002). No significant relations emerged between hay fever and infection in the first month of life, even among children born in June. CONCLUSIONS: The association of hay fever with family structure is not due to reporting bias and reflects an environmental influence on allergic sensitisation. The effects of sibship size, birth order, and infant feeding are consistent with a protective influence of postnatal infection. The first month of life and the first postnatal exposure to allergen are not the critical periods during which this protective effect is determined.
PMCID: PMC1511536  PMID: 8669958
18.  Association of Adenotonsillectomy with Asthma Outcomes in Children: A Longitudinal Database Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(11):e1001753.
Rakesh Bhattacharjee and colleagues use data from a US private health insurance database to compare asthma severity measures in children one year before and one year after they underwent adenotonsillectomy with asthma measures in those who did not undergo adenotonsillectomy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), both disorders of airway inflammation, were associated in recent observational studies. Although childhood OSA is effectively treated by adenotonsillectomy (AT), it remains unclear whether AT also improves childhood asthma. We hypothesized that AT, the first line of therapy for childhood OSA, would be associated with improved asthma outcomes and would reduce the usage of asthma therapies in children.
Methods and Findings
Using the 2003–2010 MarketScan database, we identified 13,506 children with asthma in the United States who underwent AT. Asthma outcomes during 1 y preceding AT were compared to those during 1 y following AT. In addition, 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma without AT were included to examine asthma outcomes among children without known adenotonsillar tissue morbidity. Primary outcomes included the occurrence of a diagnostic code for acute asthma exacerbation (AAE) or acute status asthmaticus (ASA). Secondary outcomes included temporal changes in asthma medication prescriptions, the frequency of asthma-related emergency room visits (ARERs), and asthma-related hospitalizations (ARHs). Comparing the year following AT to the year prior, AT was associated with significant reductions in AAE (30.2%; 95% CI: 25.6%–34.3%; p<0.0001), ASA (37.9%; 95% CI: 29.2%–45.6%; p<0.0001), ARERs (25.6%; 95% CI: 16.9%–33.3%; p<0.0001), and ARHs (35.8%; 95% CI: 19.6%–48.7%; p = 0.02). Moreover, AT was associated with significant reductions in most asthma prescription refills, including bronchodilators (16.7%; 95% CI: 16.1%–17.3%; p<0.001), inhaled corticosteroids (21.5%; 95% CI: 20.7%–22.3%; p<0.001), leukotriene receptor antagonists (13.4%; 95% CI: 12.9%–14.0%; p<0.001), and systemic corticosteroids (23.7%; 95% CI: 20.9%–26.5%; p<0.001). In contrast, there were no significant reductions in these outcomes in children with asthma who did not undergo AT over an overlapping follow-up period. Limitations of the MarketScan database include lack of information on race and obesity status. Also, the MarketScan database does not include information on children with public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) or uninsured children.
Conclusions
In a very large sample of privately insured children, AT was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. Contingent on validation through prospectively designed clinical trials, this study supports the premise that detection and treatment of adenotonsillar tissue morbidity may serve as an important strategy for improving asthma control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The global burden of asthma has been rising steadily over the past few decades. Nowadays, about 200–300 million adults and children worldwide are affected by asthma, a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the airways (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs). Although asthma can develop at any age, it is often diagnosed in childhood—asthma is one of the commonest chronic diseases in children. In the US, for example, asthma affects around 7.1 million children under the age of 18 years and is the third leading cause of hospitalization of children under the age of 15 years. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur or to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recent studies have found an association between severe childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, airway inflammation promotes hypertrophy (excess growth) of the adenoids and the tonsils, immune system tissues in the upper airway. During sleep, the presence of hypertrophic adenotonsillar tissues predisposes the walls of the throat to collapse, which results in apnea—a brief interruption in breathing. People with OSA often snore loudly and frequently wake from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe. Childhood OSA, which affects 2%–3% of children, can be effectively treated by removal of the adenoids and tonsils (adenotonsillectomy). Given the association between childhood OSA and severe asthma and given the involvement of airway inflammation in both conditions, might adenotonsillectomy also improve childhood asthma? Here, the researchers analyze data from the MarketScan database, a large database of US patients with private health insurance, to investigate whether adenotonsillectomy is associated with improvements in asthma outcomes and with reductions in the use of asthma therapies in children.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the database to identify 13,506 children with asthma who had undergone adenotonsillectomy and to obtain information about asthma outcomes among these children for the year before and the year after the operation. Because asthma severity tends to decrease with age, the researchers also used the database to identify 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma who did not have the operation so that they could examine asthma outcomes over an equivalent two-year period in the absence of complications related to adenotonsillar hypertrophy. Comparing the year after adenotonsillectomy with the year before the operation, adenotonsillectomy was associated with a 30% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations, a 37.9% reduction in acute status asthmaticus (an asthma attack that is unresponsive to the drugs usually used to treat attacks), a 25.6% reduction in asthma-related emergency room visits, and a 35.8% reduction in asthma-related hospitalizations. By contrast, among the control children, there was only a 2% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations and only a 7% reduction in acute status asthmaticus over an equivalent two-year period. Adenotonsillectomy was also associated with significant reductions (changes unlikely to have occurred by chance) in prescription refills for most types of drugs used to treat asthma, whereas there were no significant reductions in prescription refills among children with asthma who had not undergone adenotonsillectomy. The study was limited by the lack of measures of race and obesity, which are both associated with severity of asthma.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in a large sample of privately insured children in the US, adenotonsillectomy was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. These results do not show, however, that adenotonsillectomy caused a reduction in the severity of childhood asthma. It could be that the children who underwent adenotonsillectomy (but not those who did not have the operation) shared another unknown factor that led to improvements in their asthma over time. To prove a causal link, it will be necessary to undertake a randomized controlled trial in which the outcomes of groups of children with asthma who are chosen at random to undergo or not undergo adenotonsillectomy are compared. However, with the proviso that there are some risks associated with adenotonsillectomy, these findings suggest that the detection and treatment of adenotonsillar hypertrophy may help to improve asthma control in children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001753.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on asthma, including videos, games, and links to other resources for children with asthma
The American Lung Association provides detailed information about asthma and a fact sheet on asthma in children; it also has information about obstructive sleep apnea
The National Sleep Foundation provides information on snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in children
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including some personal stories) about asthma, about asthma in children, and about obstructive sleep apnea
The “Global Asthma Report 2014” will be available in October 2014
MedlinePlus provides links to further information on asthma, on asthma in children, on sleep apnea, and on tonsils and adenoids (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001753
PMCID: PMC4219664  PMID: 25369282
19.  Sensitisation to airborne moulds and severity of asthma: cross sectional study from European Community respiratory health survey 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2002;325(7361):411.
Objective
To assess whether the severity of asthma is associated with sensitisation to airborne moulds rather than to other seasonal or perennial allergens.
Design
Multicentre epidemiological survey in 30 centres.
Setting
European Community respiratory health survey.
Participants
1132 adults aged 20-44 years with current asthma and with skin prick test results.
Main outcome measure
Severity of asthma according to score based on forced expiratory volume in one second, number of asthma attacks, hospital admissions for breathing problems, and use of corticosteroids in past 12 months.
Results
The frequency of sensitisation to moulds (Alternaria alternata or Cladosporium herbarum, or both) increased significantly with increasing asthma severity (odds ratio 2.34 (95% confidence interval 1.56 to 3.52) for either for severe v mild asthma). This association existed in all of the study areas (gathered into regions), although there were differences in the frequency of sensitisation. There was no association between asthma severity and sensitisation to pollens or cats. Sensitisation to Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus was also positively associated with severity. In multivariable logistic regressions including sensitisation to moulds, pollens, D pteronyssinus, and cats simultaneously, the odds ratios for sensitisation to moulds were 1.48 (0.97 to 2.26) for moderate v mild asthma and 2.16 (1.37 to 3.35) for severe v mild asthma (P<0.001 for trend).
Conclusions
Sensitisation to moulds is a powerful risk factor for severe asthma in adults. This should be taken into account in primary prevention, management, and patients' education.
What is already known on this topicSensitisation to moulds is a known risk factor for life threatening exacerbations of asthmaIt is unknown whether such sensitisation is generally associated with severity of asthmaWhat this study addsThe prevalence of sensitisation to moulds (Alternaria alternata or Cladosporium herbarum, or both) increased with increasing severity of asthmaIn this multicentre epidemiological survey, similar patterns of results were observed in various areas of the world
PMCID: PMC119432  PMID: 12193354
20.  Relationship between exposure to domestic allergens and bronchial hyperresponsiveness in non-sensitised, atopic asthmatic subjects 
Thorax  2005;60(1):17-21.
Background: The effect of exposure to allergens not causing sensitisation in atopic asthmatic subjects has not previously been studied. A study was undertaken to assess the degree of asthma severity (measured by spirometry, airway reactivity and exhaled nitric oxide) in atopic asthmatic patients not sensitised to the domestic allergen to which they were exposed.
Methods: Dust samples were collected from the living room carpet and mattress in the homes of 248 subjects and dust mite, cat and dog allergen concentrations were measured. Spirometry, non-specific bronchial reactivity (BR), and exhaled nitric oxide (eNO) were ascertained. Patients' sensitisation status was assessed by skin prick testing.
Results: Adult atopic asthmatics not sensitised to mite but exposed to high levels of mite allergen had significantly more severe BR than subjects not exposed to high levels of mite (PD20, geometric mean (GM) 0.21 mg (95% CI 0.09 to 0.47) v 0.86 mg (95% CI 0.44 to 1.67), mean ratio difference 4.1 (95% CI 1.5 to 11.4), p = 0.008). Subjects not sensitised but exposed to high levels of dog allergen also had significantly more severe BR than subjects not exposed (PD20 GM 0.16 v 0.52 mg, mean ratio difference 3.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 9.2), p = 0.01). The differences in BR between these groups were still significant after adjusting for confounding factors. This effect of greater airway reactivity was not seen in subjects exposed but not sensitised to cat allergens.
Conclusion: Atopic asthmatic subjects who are exposed to high levels of dust mite or dog allergens but not sensitised to these allergens have evidence of increased airway reactivity.
doi:10.1136/thx.2004.027839
PMCID: PMC1747172  PMID: 15618577
21.  Peanut allergy in relation to heredity, maternal diet, and other atopic diseases: results of a questionnaire survey, skin prick testing, and food challenges. 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1996;313(7056):518-521.
OBJECTIVES: To determine rates of other atopic manifestations in people with peanut allergy and the prevalence of such allergy in their families. DESIGN: A survey of people with self reported peanut allergy and people referred by their general practitioner for suspected peanut allergy; survey and skin testing of 50 children with reported peanut allergy and their available first degree relatives. SUBJECTS: 622 adults and children with reported, suspected, or known peanut allergy. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Prevalence of peanut allergy and other allergies in the families of people with peanut allergy. RESULTS: 622 valid completed questionnaires were returned out of the 833 questionnaires dispatched (74.7%). All forms of atopy were both more common in successive generations (P < 0.0001) and more common in maternal than paternal relatives (P < 0.0001). Peanut allergy was reported by 0.1% (3/2409) of grandparents, 0.6% (7/1213) of aunts and uncles, 1.6% (19/1218) of parents, and 6.9% (42/610) of siblings. Consumption of peanuts while pregnant or breast feeding was more common among mothers of probands aged < or = 5 years than mothers of probands aged > 5 years (P < 0.001). Age of onset correlated inversely with year of birth (r = -0.6, P < 0.001). Skin prick testing of 50 children with reported peanut allergy and their families: 7 probands (14%) had a negative result for peanut. Peanut allergy was refuted by food challenge in all those tested (5/7). No parent and 13% (5/39) of siblings had a positive result on skin prick testing for peanut. Two of these siblings had negative challenge with peanuts. The prevalence of peanut allergy in siblings is therefore 3/39 (7%). CONCLUSIONS: Peanut allergy is more common in siblings of people with peanut allergy than in the parents or the general population. Its apparently increasing prevalence may reflect a general increase of atopy, which is inherited more commonly from the mother. Peanut allergy is presenting earlier in life, possibly reflecting increased consumption of peanut by pregnant and nursing mothers.
PMCID: PMC2351952  PMID: 8789975
22.  Occupational asthma in an electronics factory: a case control study to evaluate aetiological factors 
Thorax  1979;34(3):300-307.
This is the final part of a study carried out to investigate occupational asthma due to sensitivity to colophony fumes (a component of soldering flux) in an electronics factory. Fifty-eight workers with occupational asthma employed on the main shop floor were investigated. In them the interval between first exposure and sensitisation varied widely with a group becoming sensitive within one to two years of first exposure, and another group whose sensitisation was delayed for three to 23 years. Once sensitised the interval between arriving at work and the onset of daily symptoms seemed to be bimodally distributed, resembling the immediate and late asthmatic symptoms seen on provocation testing. Twenty-three out of 58 had no definite daily deterioration at work but improved at the weekends. Wheeze and breathlessness occurred in the evenings at home in most, and one-third were woken by breathlessness at least on some nights. These 58 cases were compared with 48 controls without occupational asthma who had worked on the same shop floor for at least four years. Mean levels of FEV1 were significantly worse in the cases before exposure on Monday morning. The cases also had more than twice as much sickness absence as controls. FEV1 fell by more than 10% over a working shift in 33% of cases and 5% of controls. Atopy (a positive skin prick test to one or more common allergens) and a past history of allergic disease were weakly but significantly associated with being a case. The effects of smoking and a family history of allergic disease were trivial. Prick testing with an antigen derived from the colophony in the solder flux was completely negative, but cases and controls had significantly raised levels of total IgM compared with blood bank controls, perhaps suggesting some previously unrecognised immunological process.
PMCID: PMC471064  PMID: 483204
23.  Breast feeding in Israel: maternal factors associated with choice and duration. 
STUDY OBJECTIVES--To determine the influence of maternal characteristics on the incidence and duration of breast feeding. DESIGN--All the women who delivered in three obstetric wards within a two year period were surveyed. These three wards cover 93% of all births in the Jerusalem district. Women were interviewed on breast feeding of the previous child on the first or second day post partum by a research nurse. PARTICIPANTS--Altogether 8486 women whose previous pregnancy had resulted in a live born singleton who survived for at least one year. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS--Breast feeding information was linked to demographic and health information from hospital records. Using logistic regression analysis, failure to start breast feeding was best predicted (p < 0.001) by caesarean delivery, infant's birth weight, maternal smoking habits, and mother being non-immigrant. Maternal age (< 24 or > 40 years) and father being an ultraorthodox Jew were also positively (p < 0.05) associated with the decision to breast feed. Long term breast feeding (three months or more) was strongly affected (p < 0.001) by maternal education level, with both women with the fewest and the greatest number of years of schooling more likely to breast feed. A similar association was observed in all ethnic groups. Primipara and grandmultipara (parity > 4), new immigrants, ultraorthodox Jews, and non-smokers breast fed their babies for longer. CONCLUSIONS--The importance of maternal characteristics in relation to breast feeding was shown. Caesarean delivery and the infant's birth weight were strongly related to the decision to breast feed as were the demographic characteristics of mother's age and her country of birth. Education was not related to this decision but was strongly associated with the duration of breast feeding, as was parity. The behavioural characteristics of smoking and being ultraorthodox were related to both the decision to start and the duration of breast feeding. Efforts to encourage breast feeding ought to be targeted during the hospital stay and post partum period towards women identified as being at increased risk.
PMCID: PMC1059960  PMID: 8051528
24.  292 The Relationship Between Maternal Atopy and Childhood Asthma 
Background
The diagnostic difficulty of childhood asthma leads to widespread under-diagnosis, which negatively affects the quality of life of asthmatic children. The presence of atopy in children is often used as a clinical tool to assist in making the diagnosis. However, local studies have demonstrated that atopy occurs in fewer asthmatic children than previously thought. This brings into question the association between allergy and asthma. The purpose of this study was to determine if a family history of allergy is predictive of atopic asthma in children, by comparing allergy, history of asthma and allergic symptoms, in mothers of atopic versus non-atopic asthmatic children.
Methods
A random sample of children and their mothers attending the Children's Chest and Allergy Clinic at Steve Biko Academic Hospital were enrolled. Skin-prick testing or radioallergosorbent test results, of the children were obtained from the child's hospital records. Mothers completed a detailed questionnaire which included demographic details, a history of symptoms suggestive of ‘atopy’ and allergic diseases and a history of asthma. Skin prick testing was performed on the mothers.
Results
100 children and their parents were enrolled. 64 mothers to atopic children were used as the study group and 36 mothers to non-atopic children were used as the control group. Of the 48 mothers with a positive skin prick test, 30 (64%) had atopic children (P = 0.836). Of the 16 mothers with asthma, 14 (88%) had atopic children (P = 0.045). Of the 70 mothers with a history of symptoms suggestive of an allergic disease, 45 (64%) had children with atopic asthma (P = 1.0). Of the 77 mothers who were considered to be allergic, 50 (65%) had children with atopic asthma (P = 0.806).
Conclusions
Both maternal skin prick positivity and a history of symptoms suggestive of allergic disease, are poor predictors of atopic asthma in children. This is true even in the mothers were considered to be allergic. However maternal asthma is a specific predictor of childhood atopic asthma with a good positive predictive and a high odds ratio. Further studies need to be conducted to compare the epidemiology of allergic asthma in different population groups.
doi:10.1097/01.WOX.0000412049.82446.27
PMCID: PMC3513181
25.  Synergism between allergens and viruses and risk of hospital admission with asthma: case-control study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2002;324(7340):763.
Objective
To investigate the importance of sensitisation and exposure to allergens and viral infection in precipitating acute asthma in adults resulting in admission to hospital.
Design
Case-control study.
Setting
Large district general hospital.
Participants
60 patients aged 17-50 admitted to hospital over a year with acute asthma, matched with two controls: patients with stable asthma recruited from the outpatient department and patients admitted to hospital with non-respiratory conditions (inpatient controls).
Main outcome measures
Atopic status (skin testing and total and specific IgE), presence of common respiratory viruses and atypical bacteria (polymerase chain reaction), dust samples from homes, and exposure to allergens (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA): Der p 1, Fel d 1, Can f 1, and Bla g 2).
Results
Viruses were detected in 31 of 177 patients. The difference in the frequency of viruses detected between the groups was significant (admitted with asthma 26%, stable asthma 18%, inpatient controls 9%; P=0.04). A significantly higher proportion of patients admitted with asthma (66%) were sensitised and exposed to either mite, cat, or dog allergen than patients with stable asthma (37%) and inpatient controls (15%; P<0.001). Being sensitised and exposed to allergens was an independent associate of the group admitted to hospital (odds ratio 2.3, 95% confidence interval 1.0 to 5.4; P=0.05), whereas the combination of sensitisation, high exposure to one or more allergens, and viral detection considerably increased the risk of being admitted with asthma (8.4, 2.1 to 32.8; P=0.002).
Conclusions
Allergens and viruses may act together to exacerbate asthma.
What is already known on this topicStudies on segmental allergen challenge of the lung and experimental rhinovirus infection show synergistic effects between allergens and respiratory virus infectionNo studies have investigated an interaction between sensitisation, exposure to allergens, and virus infections in real life exacerbations of asthmaWhat this study addsAllergens and viruses may act together to exacerbate asthma, indicating that domestic exposure to allergens acts synergistically with viruses in sensitised patients, increasing the risk of hospital admissionStrategies to reduce the impact of asthma exacerbations in adults should include interventions directed at both viruses and reducing exposure to allergens
PMCID: PMC100316  PMID: 11923159

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