BACKGROUND: To date, most studies of the "allergy epidemic" have been based on self-reported data. There is still limited knowledge on time trends in allergic sensitization, especially among adults.
OBJECTIVE: To study allergic sensitization, its risk factors, and time trends in prevalence.
METHODS: Within West Sweden Asthma Study (WSAS) a population-based sample of 788 adults (17-60y) underwent skin prick tests (SPT) for 11 aeroallergens 2009-2012. Specific IgE was analyzed in 750 of the participants. Those aged 20-46y (n=379) were compared with the European Community Respiratory Health Survey sample aged 20-46y from the same area (n=591) in 1991-1992.
RESULTS: Among those aged 20-46y the prevalence of positive SPT to pollen increased; timothy from 17.1% to 29.0% (p<0.001) and birch from 15.6% to 23.7% (p=0.002) between 1991-1992 and 2009-2012. Measurements of specific IgE confirmed these increases. Prevalence of sensitization to all other tested allergens was unchanged. In the full WSAS sample aged 17-60y any positive SPT was seen in 41.9%, and the dominating sensitizers were pollen (34.3%), animals (22.8%) and mites (12.6%). Pollen sensitization was strongly associated with rhinitis, whereas indoor allergens were more associated with asthma. Growing up with livestock or furred pets decreased the risk of sensitization, adjusted odds ratio 0.53 (0.28-0.995) and 0.68 (0.47-0.98) respectively.
CONCLUSION: Pollen sensitization has increased in Swedish adults since the early 1990's, while the prevalence of sensitization to other allergens has remained unchanged. This is one plausible explanation for the increase in rhinitis 1990-2008 in Swedish adults, during which time the prevalence of asthma, which is more associated with perennial allergens, was stable. Contact with animals in childhood seems to reduce the risk of sensitization well into adulthood. One major factor contributing to the rise in pollen allergy is a significant increase in levels of birch and grass pollen over the past three decades.
adults, allergic sensitization, asthma, epidemiology, farm, skin prick test, speciﬁc IgE