Age, sex and the association between skin test responses and IgE titres with asthma

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Abstract

Background:

Skin prick tests (SPTs) and allergen-specific serum IgE (sIgE) measurements are the main diagnostic tools for confirming atopic sensitization. Results are usually reported as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, using the same arbitrary cut-offs (SPT>3 mm, sIgE>0.35 kUA/l) across different ages and sexes. We investigated the influence of age and sex on the interpretation of allergy test in the context of childhood asthma.

Methods:

In a population-based birth cohort (n = 1051), we ascertained the information on asthma/wheeze (validated questionnaires) and performed SPTs and sIgE measurement to inhalant allergens (dust mite, cat, dog) at follow-ups between ages three and 11 years. We investigated the association between quantitative sensitization (sum of SPT mean wheal diameters [MWD] and sIgE titres to the three allergens) and current wheeze and asthma across ages and sexes.

Results:

We observed a significant association between the SPT MWD and sIgE titres and wheeze/asthma at most ages and for both sexes. However, the strength of this association was age- and sex-dependent. For SPTs, the strength of the association between MWD and asthma increased with increasing age; we observed the opposite pattern for sIgE titre. For any given SPT MWD/sIgE titre, boys were significantly more likely to express clinical symptoms, particularly in early life; this difference between males and females diminished with age and was no longer significant by age 11 years.

Conclusions:

Age and sex should be taken into account when interpreting the results of skin tests and sIgE measurement, and age- and sex-specific normative data are needed for these allergy tests.

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