A new self administered questionnaire completed by parents was used to study the prevalences of wheeze, shortness of breath, and cough in 2503 Southampton schoolchildren aged 7 and 11 together with exacerbating factors and background information including treatment and diagnosis. The questionnaire had a response rate of 84% and was found to be highly repeatable with respect to current symptoms. The overall prevalences of wheeze and shortness of breath in the current year (1986) were 12.1% and 8.5% respectively. Social class, home ownership, parental smoking, and presence of a family pet were unrelated to symptom prevalence. According to the parents the overall diagnosis rate for asthma was 9.5%. In common with other studies, however, we found considerable evidence for undertreatment. The symptoms of wheeze and nocturnal and morning breathlessness occurred more commonly in boys, but this sex ratio decreased with increasing age. The prevalences of wheeze and shortness of breath were similar in the two age groups. In contrast, there were only small differences between the sexes with respect to cough whereas, among children without wheeze or shortness of breath, there was a fall in the prevalence of cough from 18.9% at 7 years to 8.7% at 11 years. When controlling for the other respiratory symptoms, wheeze was the only symptom significantly related to parental asthma. The fall in the prevalence of cough between the two age groups is unlikely to be related to changes in asthma prevalence and, when not associated with wheeze, may be an indicator of separate pathology.
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