A cohort of 67 babies at risk of developing atopic disorders was followed up prospectively for 11 years. Clinical assessment and skin prick allergen sensitivity testing were performed annually over the first five years. At 11 years the cohort was restudied, symptoms were assessed by questionnaire, and bronchial reactivity (BHR) to histamine was measured. On the basis of skin testing, 35 children were atopic and 32 remained non-atopic. The expression of atopy increased with age. The lifetime prevalence of eczema, wheeze, and hay fever were 46%, 63%, and 56% respectively. The yearly period prevalence of hay fever increased with age, that of eczema declined, while that for wheeze showed a bimodal distribution with a peak before the age of 2 years and a gradual increase thereafter. Of the 21 children who wheezed before their second birthday, most never wheezed again and did not show BHR at 11 years. Of the 21 children whose first wheezing was after 2 years of age, 17 were still wheezing at 11 years and 12 showed BHR. Of the children who wheezed before 2 years of age, 10 were or became atopic, compared with 20 of the 23 children who wheezed at 11 years. These findings suggest that childhood asthma is a heterogeneous condition with atopy being strongly associated with the persistence of wheeze.
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