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1.  Respiratory Health in Cleaners in Northern Europe: Is Susceptibility Established in Early Life? 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0131959.
There is some evidence that maternal smoking increases susceptibility to personal smoking’s detrimental effects. One might question whether early life disadvantage might influence susceptibility to occupational exposure.
In this cross-sectional study we investigated respiratory symptoms, asthma and self-reported chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as related to working as a cleaner in Northern European populations, and whether early life factors influenced susceptibility to occupational cleaning’s unhealthy effects.
The RHINE III questionnaire study assessed occupational cleaning in 13,499 participants. Associations with respiratory symptoms, asthma and self-reported COPD were analysed with multiple logistic regressions, adjusting for sex, age, smoking, educational level, parent´s educational level, BMI and participating centre. Interaction of occupational cleaning with early life disadvantage (maternal smoking, severe respiratory infection <5 years, born during winter months, maternal age at birth >35 years) was investigated.
Main Results
Among 2138 ever-cleaners the risks of wheeze (OR 1.4, 95% CI 1.3–1.6), adult-onset asthma (1.5 [1.2–1.8]) and self-reported COPD (1.7 [1.3–2.2]) were increased. The risk increased with years in occupational cleaning (adult-onset asthma: ≤1 year 0.9 [0.7–1.3]; 1–4 years 1.5 [1.1–2.0]; ≥4 years 1.6 [1.2–2.1]). The association of wheeze with cleaning activity ≥4 years was significantly stronger for those with early life disadvantage than in those without (1.8 [1.5–2.3] vs. 1.3 [0.96–1.8]; pinteraction 0.035).
Occupational cleaners had increased risk of asthma and self-reported COPD. Respiratory symptom risk was particularly increased in persons with factors suggestive of early life disadvantage. We hypothesize that early life disadvantage may increase airway vulnerability to harmful exposure from cleaning agents later in life.
PMCID: PMC4500550  PMID: 26168149
2.  Predictors of microbial agents in dust and respiratory health in the Ecrhs 
Dampness and mould exposure have been repeatedly associated with respiratory health. However, less is known about the specific agents provoking or arresting health effects in adult populations. We aimed to assess predictors of microbial agents in mattress dust throughout Europe and to investigate associations between microbial exposures, home characteristics and respiratory health.
Seven different fungal and bacterial parameters were assessed in mattress dust from 956 adult ECRHS II participants in addition to interview based home characteristics. Associations between microbial parameters and the asthma score and lung function were examined using mixed negative binomial regression and linear mixed models, respectively.
Indoor dampness and pet keeping were significant predictors for higher microbial agent concentrations in mattress dust. Current mould and condensation in the bedroom were significantly associated with lung function decline and current mould at home was positively associated with the asthma score. Higher concentrations of muramic acid were associated with higher mean ratios of the asthma score (aMR 1.37, 95%CI 1.17-1.61). There was no evidence for any association between fungal and bacterial components and lung function.
Indoor dampness was associated with microbial levels in mattress dust which in turn was positively associated with asthma symptoms.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12890-015-0042-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4425915  PMID: 25929252
Molds; Fungi; Microbials; Indoor Air; Asthma; Airways
3.  Place of upbringing in early childhood as related to inflammatory bowel diseases in adulthood: a population-based cohort study in Northern Europe 
European Journal of Epidemiology  2014;29(6):429-437.
Background The two inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, has increased rapidly during the twentieth century, but the aetiology is still poorly understood. Impaired immunological competence due to decreasing biodiversity and altered microbial stimulation is a suggested explanation. Objective Place of upbringing was used as a proxy for the level and diversity of microbial stimulation to investigate the effects on the prevalence of IBD in adulthood. Methods Respiratory Health in Northern Europe (RHINE) III is a postal follow-up questionnaire of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) cohorts established in 1989–1992. The study population was 10,864 subjects born 1945–1971 in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Estonia, who responded to questionnaires in 2000–2002 and 2010–2012. Data were analysed in logistic and Cox regression models taking age, sex, smoking and body mass index into consideration. Results Being born and raised on a livestock farm the first 5 years of life was associated with a lower risk of IBD compared to city living in logistic (OR 0.54, 95 % CI 0.31; 0.94) and Cox regression models (HR 0.55, 95 % CI 0.31; 0.98). Random-effect meta-analysis did not identify geographical difference in this association. Furthermore, there was a significant trend comparing livestock farm living, village and city living (p < 0.01). Sub-analyses showed that the protective effect was only present among subjects born after 1952 (OR 0.25, 95 % CI 0.11; 0.61). Conclusion This study suggests a protective effect from livestock farm living in early childhood on the occurrence of IBD in adulthood, however only among subjects born after 1952. We speculate that lower microbial diversity is an explanation for the findings.
PMCID: PMC4065648  PMID: 24916994
Inflammatory bowel disease; Ulcerative colitis; Crohn’s disease; Microbial exposure; Rural/urban environments; Hygiene hypothesis
4.  Longterm follow-up in European respiratory health studies – patterns and implications 
Selection bias is a systematic error in epidemiologic studies that may seriously distort true measures of associations between exposure and disease. Observational studies are highly susceptible to selection bias, and researchers should therefore always examine to what extent selection bias may be present in their material and what characterizes the bias in their material. In the present study we examined long-term participation and consequences of loss to follow-up in the studies Respiratory Health in Northern Europe (RHINE), Italian centers of European Community Respiratory Health Survey (I-ECRHS), and the Italian Study on Asthma in Young Adults (ISAYA).
Logistic regression identified predictors for follow-up participation. Baseline prevalence of 9 respiratory symptoms (asthma attack, asthma medication, combined variable with asthma attack and/or asthma medication, wheeze, rhinitis, wheeze with dyspnea, wheeze without cold, waking with chest tightness, waking with dyspnea) and 9 exposure-outcome associations (predictors sex, age and smoking; outcomes wheeze, asthma and rhinitis) were compared between all baseline participants and long-term participants. Bias was measured as ratios of relative frequencies and ratios of odds ratios (ROR).
Follow-up response rates after 10 years were 75% in RHINE, 64% in I-ECRHS and 53% in ISAYA. After 20 years of follow-up, response was 53% in RHINE and 49% in I-ECRHS. Female sex predicted long-term participation (in RHINE OR (95% CI) 1.30(1.22, 1.38); in I-ECRHS 1.29 (1.11, 1.50); and in ISAYA 1.42 (1.25, 1.61)), as did increasing age. Baseline prevalence of respiratory symptoms were lower among long-term participants (relative deviations compared to total baseline population 0-15% (RHINE), 0-48% (I-ECRHS), 3-20% (ISAYA)), except rhinitis which had a slightly higher prevalence. Most exposure-outcome associations did not differ between long-term participants and all baseline participants, except lower OR for rhinitis among ISAYA long-term participating smokers (relative deviation 17% (smokers) and 44% (10–20 pack years)).
We found comparable patterns of long-term participation and loss to follow-up in RHINE, I-ECRHS and ISAYA. Baseline prevalence estimates for long-term participants were slightly lower than for the total baseline population, while exposure-outcome associations were mainly unchanged by loss to follow-up.
PMCID: PMC4021078  PMID: 24739530
6.  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
PMCID: PMC3787817  PMID: 23471350
7.  Airway symptoms and lung function in the local population after the oil tank explosion in Gulen, Norway 
Oil tanks containing a mixture of hydrocarbons, including sulphuric compounds, exploded and caught fire in an industrial harbour. This study assesses airway symptoms and lung function in the nearby population 1½ years after the explosion.
A cross-sectional study included individuals ≥18 years old. Individuals living <6 km (sub-groups <3km and 3–6 km) from the accident site formed the exposed group, individuals living >20 km away formed a control group. A questionnaire and spirometry tests were completed by 223 exposed individuals (response rate men 70%, women 75%) and 179 control individuals (response rate men 51%, women 65%). Regression analyses included adjustment for smoking, occupational exposure, atopy, infection in the preceding month and age. Analyses of symptoms were also adjusted for stress reactions related to the accident.
Exposed individuals experienced significantly more blocked nose (odds ratio 1.7 [95% confidence interval 1.0, 2.8]), rhinorrhoea (1.6 [1.1, 3.3]), nose irritation (3.4 [2.0, 5.9]), sore throat (3.1 [1.8, 5.5]), morning cough (3.5 [2.0, 5.5]), daily cough (2.2 [1.4, 3.7]), cough >3 months a year (2.9 [1.5, 5.3]) and cough with phlegm (1.9 [1.2, 3.1]) than control individuals. A significantly increasing trend was found for nose symptoms and cough, depending on the proximity of home address to explosion site (daily cough, 3-6km 1.8 [1.0, 3.1], <3km 3.0 [1.7, 6.4]). Lung function measurements were significantly lower in the exposed group than in the control group, FEV1 adjusted mean difference −123 mL [95% confidence interval −232, -14]), FEV1% predicted −2.5 [−5.5, 0.5], FVC −173 mL [− 297, -50], FVC% predicted −3.1 [− 5.9, -0.4], and airway obstruction (GOLD II/III).
Based on cross sectional analyses, individuals living in an area with air pollution from an oil tank explosion had more airway symptoms and lower lung function than a control group 1½ years after the incident.
PMCID: PMC3549740  PMID: 23234609
Airway symptoms; Environmental pollutants; Explosion; Lung function
8.  Occupational Exposure and New-onset Asthma in a Population-based Study in Northern Europe (RHINE) 
Annals of Occupational Hygiene  2012;57(4):482-492.
In a large population-based study among adults in northern Europe the relation between occupational exposure and new-onset asthma was studied.
The study comprised 13 284 subjects born between 1945 and 1973, who answered a questionnaire 1989–1992 and again 1999–2001. Asthma was defined as ‘Asthma diagnosed by a physician’ with reported year of diagnose. Hazard ratios (HR), for new-onset adult asthma during 1980–2000, were calculated using a modified job-exposure matrix as well as high-risk occupations in Cox regression models. The analyses were made separately for men and women and were also stratified for atopy.
During the observation period there were 429 subjects with new-onset asthma with an asthma incidence of 1.3 cases per 1000 person-years for men and 2.4 for women. A significant increase in new-onset asthma was seen for men exposed to plant-associated antigens (HR = 3.6; 95% CI [confidence interval] = 1.4–9.0), epoxy (HR = 2.4; 95% CI = 1.3–4.5), diisocyanates (HR = 2.1; 95% CI = 1.2–3.7) and accidental peak exposures to irritants (HR = 2.4; 95% CI = 1.3–4.7). Both men and women exposed to cleaning agents had an increased asthma risk. When stratifying for atopy an increased asthma risk were seen in non-atopic men exposed to acrylates (HR = 3.3; 95% CI = 1.4–7.5), epoxy compounds (HR = 3.6; 95% CI = 1.6–7.9), diisocyanates and accidental peak exposures to irritants (HR = 3.0; 95% CI = 1.2–7.2). Population attributable risk for occupational asthma was 14% for men and 7% for women.
This population-based study showed that men exposed to epoxy, diisocyanates and acrylates had an increased risk of new-onset asthma. Non-atopics seemed to be at higher risk than atopics, except for exposure to high molecular weight agents. Increased asthma risks among cleaners, spray painters, plumbers, and hairdressers were confirmed.
PMCID: PMC3622438  PMID: 23204511
Atopics and non-atopics; high molecular weight agent; high-risk occupations; irritating agents;  job-exposure matrix; low molecualr weight agent; occupational asthma;  population attributable risk
9.  Respiratory symptoms in adults are related to impaired quality of life, regardless of asthma and COPD: results from the European community respiratory health survey 
Respiratory symptoms are common in the general population, and their presence is related to Health-related quality of life (HRQoL). The objective was to describe the association of respiratory symptoms with HRQoL in subjects with and without asthma or COPD and to investigate the role of atopy, bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), and lung function in HRQoL.
The European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) I and II provided data on HRQoL, lung function, respiratory symptoms, asthma, atopy, and BHR from 6009 subjects. Generic HRQoL was assessed through the physical component summary (PCS) score and the mental component summary (MCS) score of the SF-36.
Factor analyses and linear regressions adjusted for age, gender, smoking, occupation, BMI, comorbidity, and study centre were conducted.
Having breathlessness at rest in ECRHS II was associated with mean score (95% CI) impairment in PCS of -8.05 (-11.18, -4.93). Impairment in MCS score in subjects waking up with chest tightness was -4.02 (-5.51, -2.52). The magnitude of HRQoL impairment associated with respiratory symptoms was similar for subjects with and without asthma/COPD. Adjustments for atopy, BHR, and lung function did not explain the association of respiratory symptoms and HRQoL in subjects without asthma and/or COPD.
Subjects with respiratory symptoms had poorer HRQoL; including subjects without a diagnosis of asthma or COPD. These findings suggest that respiratory symptoms in the absence of a medical diagnosis of asthma or COPD are by no means trivial, and that clarifying the nature and natural history of respiratory symptoms is a relevant challenge.
Several community studies have estimated the prevalence of common respiratory symptoms like cough, dyspnoea, and wheeze in adults [1-3]. Although the prevalence varies to a large degree between studies and geographical areas, respiratory symptoms are quite common. The prevalences of respiratory symptoms in the European Community Respiratory Health Study (ECRHS) varied from one percent to 35% [1]. In fact, two studies have reported that more than half of the adult population suffers from one or more respiratory symptoms [4,5].
Respiratory symptoms are important markers of the risk of having or developing disease. Respiratory symptoms have been shown to be predictors for lung function decline [6-8], asthma [9,10], and even all-cause mortality in a general population study [11]. In patients with a known diagnosis of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory symptoms are important determinants of reduced health related quality of life (HRQoL) [12-15]. The prevalence of respiratory symptoms exceeds the combined prevalences of asthma and COPD, and both asthma and COPD are frequently undiagnosed diseases [16-18]. Thus, the high prevalence of respipratory symptoms may mirror undiagnosed and untreated disease.
The common occurrence of respiratory symptoms calls for attention to how these symptoms affect health also in subjects with no diagnosis of obstructive airways disease. Impaired HRQoL in the presence of respiratory symptoms have been found in two population-based studies [6,19], but no study of respiratory sypmtoms and HRQoL have separate analyses for subjects with and without asthma and COPD, and no study provide information about extensive objective measurements of respiratory health.
The ECRHS is a randomly sampled, multi-cultural, population based cohort study. The ECRHS included measurements of atopy, bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), and lung function, and offers a unique opportunity to investigate how respiratory symptoms affect HRQoL among subjects both with and without obstructive lung disease.
In the present paper we aimed to: 1) Describe the relationship between respiratory symptoms and HRQoL in an international adult general population and: 2) To assess whether this relationship varied with presence of asthma and/or COPD, or presence of objective functional markers like atopy and BHR.
PMCID: PMC2954977  PMID: 20875099
10.  Physical activity and bronchial hyperresponsiveness: European Community Respiratory Health Survey II 
Thorax  2006;62(5):403-410.
Identification of the risk factors for bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) would increase the understanding of the causes of asthma. The relationship between physical activity and BHR in men and women aged 28.0–56.5 years randomly selected from 24 centres in 11 countries participating in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey II was investigated.
5158 subjects answered questionnaires about physical activity and performed BHR tests. Participants were asked about the frequency and duration of usual weekly exercise resulting in breathlessness or sweating. BHR was defined as a decrease in forced expiratory volume in 1 s of at least 20% of its post‐saline value for a maximum methacholine dose of 2 mg.
Both frequency and duration of physical activity were inversely related to BHR. The prevalence of BHR in subjects exercising ⩽1, 2–3 and ⩾4 times a week was 14.5%, 11.6% and 10.9%, respectively (p<0.001). The corresponding odds ratios were 1.00, 0.78 (95% CI 0.62 to 0.99) and 0.69 (95% CI 0.50 to 0.94) after controlling for potential confounding factors. The frequency of BHR in subjects exercising <1 h, 1–3 h and ⩾4 h a week was 15.9%, 10.9% and 10.7%, respectively (p<0.001). The corresponding adjusted odds ratios were 1.00, 0.70 (95% CI 0.57 to 0.87) and 0.67 (95% CI 0.50 to 0.90). Physical activity was associated with BHR in all studied subgroups.
These results suggest that BHR is strongly and independently associated with decreased physical activity. Further studies are needed to determine the mechanisms underlying this association.
PMCID: PMC2117184  PMID: 17121869
11.  Early life environment and snoring in adulthood 
Respiratory Research  2008;9(1):63.
To our knowledge, no studies of the possible association of early life environment with snoring in adulthood have been published. We aimed to investigate whether early life environment is associated with snoring later in life.
A questionnaire including snoring frequency in adulthood and environmental factors in early life was obtained from 16,190 randomly selected men and women, aged 25–54 years, in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Estonia (response rate 74%).
A total of 15,556 subjects answered the questions on snoring. Habitual snoring, defined as loud and disturbing snoring at least 3 nights a week, was reported by 18%. Being hospitalized for a respiratory infection before the age of two years (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.27; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.01–1.59), suffering from recurrent otitis as a child (OR = 1.18; 95%CI 1.05–1.33), growing up in a large family (OR = 1.04; 95%CI 1.002–1.07) and being exposed to a dog at home as a newborn (OR = 1.26; 95%CI 1.12–1.42) were independently related to snoring later in life and independent of a number of possible confounders in adulthood. The same childhood environmental factors except household size were also related with snoring and daytime sleepiness combined.
The predisposition for adult snoring may be partly established early in life. Having had severe airway infections or recurrent otitis in childhood, being exposed to a dog as a newborn and growing up in a large family are environmental factors associated with snoring in adulthood.
PMCID: PMC2536663  PMID: 18721453
12.  Latitude, Birth Date, and Allergy 
PLoS Medicine  2005;2(10):e294.
The space and time distribution of risk factors for allergic diseases may provide insights into disease mechanisms. Allergy is believed to vary by month of birth, but multinational studies taking into account latitude have not been conducted.
Methods and Findings
A questionnaire was distributed in 54 centres to a representative sample of 20- to 44-y-old men and women mainly in Europe but also including regions in North Africa, India, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Data from 200,682 participants were analyzed. The median prevalence of allergic rhinitis was 22%, with a substantial variation across centres. Overall, allergic rhinitis decreased with geographical latitude, but there were many exceptions. No increase in prevalence during certain winters could be observed. Also, no altered risk by birth month was found, except borderline reduced risks in September and October. Effect estimates obtained by a multivariate analysis of total and specific IgE values in 18,085 individuals also excluded major birth month effects and confirmed the independent effect of language grouping.
Neither time point of first exposure to certain allergens nor early infections during winter months seems to be a major factor for adult allergy. Although there might be effects of climate or environmental UV exposure by latitude, influences within language groups seem to be more important, reflecting so far unknown genetic or cultural risk factors.
A large international survey of risk factors associated with allergy refutes previous work suggesting that allergy varies by month of birth
PMCID: PMC1240049  PMID: 16190778

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