Recent studies have indicated that atopic sensitisation is uncommon while respiratory symptoms are common among schoolchildren in Eastern Europe. Risk factors for respiratory symptoms and atopic sensitisation were evaluated in a cross sectional study involving 2594 schoolchildren (10-12 years) from Sweden (n = 665), Poland (n = 410), and Estonia (n = 1519). The measurements included parental questionnaires and skin prick tests with eight standardised allergens. Multiple logistic analyses demonstrated that atopic heredity was a significant independent risk factor for respiratory symptoms and atopic sensitisation in all the countries. Current dampness and maternal smoking were related to respiratory symptoms whereas domestic crowding, male gender, and passive smoking during infancy were related to atopic sensitisation. Current maternal smoking had a strong dose response association with current coughing attacks (nocturnal cough > 4 weeks or exercise induced coughing attacks) but only in Eastern Europe. A strong inverse relationship was recorded between domestic crowding and sensitisation as the risk for sensitisation increased with decreasing number of persons per room in the household (odds ratio (OR) 0.58, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.43 to 0.77). Exposure to tobacco smoke at home during infancy was a risk factor for atopic sensitisation but only to animal dander and only in Eastern Europe (OR 1.41, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.93). In conclusion, there were small differences in the pattern of risk factors between Eastern and Western Europe. The only exception was environmental tobacco smoke being a risk factor only in Eastern Europe. The study also suggests that factors related to domestic crowding protect against atopic sensitisation in Estonia and Poland. A higher standard of living with less crowding may give rise to an increasing prevalence of atopic sensitisation also in Eastern Europe.
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