Allergic conditions in 5-8-year-old Maltese schoolchildren: prevalence, severity, and associated risk factors [ISAAC].Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2002 Apr; 13(2):98-104.PA
Allergic conditions, especially asthma, seem to be increasingly common worldwide. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) was the first study carried out worldwide using standardized questionnaires in order to create a reliable global map of childhood allergy. The Maltese Islands were one of the centres that participated in this study and in this article the data obtained from 3,506 5-8-year-old children from 24 state schools (78.5% response rate), and also data obtained from some added 'local' questions addressed to the same children, were analyzed in order to evaluate the problem of allergic conditions in Maltese schoolchildren. Of the participants, 19.1% were wheezers 'ever,' while 8.8% were current wheezers. Of the latter, 15.9% experienced nocturnal wheezing at least once a week and 13.3% had a wheezing episode of sufficient severity to limit speech. Nasal problems were present in 23.4% of these children, and in 20.7% of all respondents these symptoms persisted up to the year of answering the questionnaire. Hay fever had been diagnosed in 14.7% of all the children. Seven per cent of respondents had a recurrent, itchy rash (suggestive of eczema) for at least 6 months of their lives and 5.5.% had it currently. The prevalence of wheezing and eczema were slightly lower than the global mean, unlike rhinitis which in Malta was commoner than the world average. Multiple variables, such as gender, breast-feeding, passive smoking, family history of atopy, pets, soft furnishings, and living next to busy roads, were factors that affected the prevalence and severity of the allergic conditions studied. In conclusion, allergic conditions are very common in Maltese schoolchildren and cause great hardship to these same youngsters. The results of this study should serve as a stimulus to try to decrease this suffering through better management of these conditions, measures to control identified detrimental factors (such as passive smoking), and further research on asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema.