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Asthma upward trend over?

Results from the latest in a series of studies into asthma and allergies - which first began four decades ago - suggest that childhood asthma in Aberdeen may have stabilised for the first time.

The study findings were unveiled today at an asthma seminar taking place at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

The study - funded by Asthma UK - was launched last May when thousands of questionnaires were given to Aberdeen primary school pupils in an ongoing attempt to monitor trends in allergic conditions among schoolchildren. It is the most recent study in a series which started in 1964 and was followed by surveys in 1989, 1994 and 1999.

A questionnaire on children’s health was completed by parents of 3,712 children from primaries three to seven at 32 schools in Aberdeen city. Overall 26% of the children had had asthma, 26% had had eczema and 19% had had hay fever at some point since birth.

The percentages of children who had ever had eczema and hay fever have risen since 1999 but, for the first time since the surveys began, the percentage of children in primaries five to seven who had wheezed in the last three years had not increased, suggesting that the peak of the ‘asthma epidemic’ may have been passed.

Also for the first time, in primaries five to seven, there were equal numbers of girls and boys who had wheezed in the past three years; a dramatic change from 1964 when there were five boys with wheeze for every three girls.

Dr Geraldine McNeill, Research Fellow in the University’s Department of Child Health, said: “These results show that childhood asthma and allergic diseases are extremely common in Aberdeen children, but they also provide some hope that for asthma the upward trend may now be over.

“The continuing increase in eczema and hay fever and the changing pattern of wheeze in girls compared to boys could provide clues to some of the factors which have contributed to the rise in allergic diseases in children.

“We suspect that there has been a change in some environmental factor which has different influences according to gender, but further research will be needed to find out what these factors could be.”

Marjory Burns, Executive Director of Asthma UK, Scotland, said: “Recent evidence suggests that asthma prevalence may have plateaued in recent years but the reason for this trend is still unclear.

“However, we mustn't be complacent as the UK has the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13-14 years worldwide.

“We know that asthma often starts in childhood, brought on by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One of Asthma UK's research priorities is to find out how the development of asthma in early life can be prevented.”

Dr McNeill added: “Aberdeen is unique worldwide in having a picture of trends in childhood asthma and allergic disease going back to 1964. This has only been possible due to the wonderful co-operation we have had from schools and parents.

“We are very grateful to all those who gave their time to help in this survey which has allowed us to extend this valuable series of data.”

The asthma seminar was taking place today at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital on the third floor, seminar rooms 1-3. Professor Peter Helms was chairing the seminar which began at 9.30am. Dr McNeill was outlining the study findings first. Following a coffee break between 10.40am and 11am, the seminar will hear about the management of asthma. School teachers, school nurses, University and hospital staff are expected to attend.


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Thursday 24th of February 2005

Ref: 1599wheeze
Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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