Upper and lower airway pathology in young children with allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis.Dan Med Bull. 2011 May; 58(5):B4278.DM
Allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis are very common diseases in childhood in industrialized countries. Although these conditions are widely trivialized by both parents and physicians they induce a major impact on quality of life for the affected children and a substantial drainage of health care resources. Unfortunately, diagnostic specificity is hampered by nonspecific symptom history and lack of reliable diagnostic tests which may explain why the pathology behind such diagnoses is poorly understood. Improved understanding of the pathophysiology of allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis in young children may contribute to the discovery of new mechanisms involved in pathogenesis and help direct future research to develop correctly timed preventive measures as well as adequate monitoring and treatment of children with rhinitis. Asthma is a common comorbidity in subjects with allergic rhinitis and epidemiological surveys have suggested a close connection between upper and lower airway diseases expressed as the "united airways concept". Furthermore, an association between upper and lower airway diseases also seems to exist in non-atopic individuals. Nevertheless, the nature of this association is poorly understood and there is a paucity of data objectivizing this association in young children. The aim of this thesis was to describe pathology in the upper and lower airways in young children from the COPSAC birth cohort with investigator-diagnosed allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis. Nasal congestion is a key symptom in both allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis, and eosinophilic inflammation is a hallmark of the allergic diseases. In paper I, we studied nasal eosinophilia and nasal airway patency assessed by acoustic rhinometry in children with allergic rhinitis, non-allergic rhinitis and healthy controls. Allergic rhinitis was significantly associated with nasal eosinophilia and irreversible nasal airway obstruction suggesting chronic inflammation and structural remodeling of the nasal mucosa in children already at age 6 years. Non-allergic rhinitis exhibited no change in the nasal airway patency, but some nasal eosinophilia albeit less than children with allergic rhinitis. These findings suggest different pathology in allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis which may have important clinical implications for early pharmacological treatment of rhinitis in young children. In paper II, we utilized the nasal airway patency end-points derived from paper I to examine whether upper and lower airway patency are associated. Upper airway patency was assessed by acoustic rhinometry before and after intranasal α-agonist and lower airway patency by spirometry before and after inhaled β2-agonist. Upper and lower airway patencies were strongly associated and independent of body size, rhinitis and asthma. The association was consistent for both baseline values and for decongested nasal airway patency and post-β2 FEV1. Blood and nasal eosinophilia were also associated with nasal airway obstruction. This suggests generalized diminished airway dimensions as a novel susceptibility factor for concurrent symptoms of asthma and rhinitis in early childhood and supports the notion of a common pathophysiology in asthma and rhinitis. The clinical interpretation of these findings is that all children presenting either rhinitis or asthma should be considered inflamed in the entire respiratory tract. In paper III, we aimed to describe asthma and intermediary asthma end-points associated with allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis in preschool-aged children. At age 7 years, we evaluated prevalence of asthma, eczema, food sensitization, and filaggrin mutations; levels of total IgE, FeNO, and blood-eosinophils; lung function and bronchial responsiveness to cold dry air. We found that asthma was similarly associated with allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis suggesting a link between upper and lower airway diseases beyond an allergy associated inflammation. Only children with allergic rhinitis had increased bronchial responsiveness and elevated FeNO suggesting different endotypes of asthma symptoms in young children with allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis. We also found bronchial hyperresponsiveness and raised values of FeNO in children with allergic rhinitis without asthma suggesting sub-clinical bronchial inflammation and supporting the allergic disease process to involve both upper and lower airways. In conclusion, these observations objectively show marked differences in nasal pathology in young children with allergic- and non-allergic rhinitis and lend support to a close connection between upper and lower airway diseases partly from an allergy driven process, but equally from non-allergic mechanisms.