The relationships among environmental allergen sensitization, allergen exposure, pulmonary function, and bronchial hyperresponsiveness in the Childhood Asthma Management Program

H S Nelson, S J Szefler, J Jacobs, K Huss, G Shapiro, A L Sternberg
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 1999, 104 (4 Pt 1): 775-85

BACKGROUND: Sensitivity and exposure to indoor allergens constitutes a risk factor for the development and persistence of asthma in children.

OBJECTIVE: Our purpose was to evaluate the relationship between sensitivity and exposure to inhalant allergens and lung function and bronchial responsiveness in a group of children (n = 1041) aged 8.9 +/- 2.1 years with mild to moderate asthma enrolled in the Childhood Asthma Management Program (CAMP).

METHODS: With use of the extensive CAMP baseline cross-sectional data on spirometry, bronchial responsiveness, allergen sensitivities, and household allergen levels, the relationship of sensitization and exposure to allergens to lung function and methacholine sensitivity was evaluated. Children who enrolled in CAMP stopped all antiasthma medication except rescue use of albuterol and prednisone for exacerbations during the 5- to 16-week screening period. During the last 2 of these weeks they underwent spirometry and methacholine challenge. Indoor allergen exposures were determined from questionnaires completed by the parent. Household levels of indoor allergens (mite, cat, dog, cockroach, mold) were determined on house dust samples. Allergen sensitivity was determined by percutaneous skin testing with a standard battery of allergens plus locally important pollen and fungal spores. Lung function and bronchial hyperresponsiveness were compared for children sensitive and not sensitive to both indoor and outdoor allergens on skin testing and, if sensitive, for exposed and not exposed to the allergens to which they were positive on skin testing.

RESULTS: There was a strong direct correlation between increased sensitivity to inhaled methacholine and skin test sensitivity to tree, weed, Alternaria, cat, dog, and indoor molds. When the relationship was examined by stepwise regression, the skin test sensitivities showing the strongest associations with the concentration of methacholine that caused a 20% fall in FEV(1) were dog (P =.003), Alternaria (P =.01), and cat (P =.05). Children sensitive to any one of the aeroallergens tested were compared for the presence or absence of exposure to that allergen at the time that the methacholine challenge was performed. Those who were sensitive and exposed to weed and cat had greater methacholine sensitivity than those similarly sensitive but not exposed (P =.003 and P =.02, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS: Sensitivity to dog or cat dander or Alternaria by skin testing was associated with increased bronchial responsiveness but not decreased lung function in children with mild to moderate asthma. These findings support the important role that sensitization to certain allergens plays in modulating bronchial responsiveness.

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