BACKGROUND: While much is known on childhood atopic diseases, knowledge about persistence of atopic diseases from childhood to adulthood is limited. We therefore aimed to study the clinical course of atopic diseases and type I sensitization prospectively in an unselected cohort of adolescents followed into adulthood.
METHODS: A cohort of unselected 8th-grade school children (mean age 14 years) established in 1995 and followed up in 2010 were evaluated with questionnaire, clinical examination, skin prick tests and measurements of specific IgE.
RESULTS: The lifetime prevalence of atopic diseases was high and increased significantly from adolescence (31%) to adulthood (57%); particularly allergic rhinitis increased with an incidence rate of 17.5/1000 person-years. Childhood predictors for adult allergic rhinitis were atopic dermatitis, asthma and asymptomatic sensitization to pollen and house dust mite. Among those with asymptomatic sensitization in adolescence, 53%-78% developed allergic rhinitis in adulthood. Furthermore, type I sensitization increased significantly from adolescence to adulthood mostly due to increased sensitization to pollen. Type I sensitization was found mainly in those with allergic rhinitis. A high number of adults had oral allergy symptoms due to the high number of birch pollen allergic individuals.
CONCLUSION: Persistence of atopic diseases in adulthood is common, and a high proportion of the adult population is sensitized giving a high prevalence of allergic rhinitis. Many with asymptomatic sensitization in adolescence will develop allergic rhinitis in adult life. The focus should be on prevention of atopic diseases and sensitization already in childhood.