Background: The patterns of inheritance of asthma have largely been explored using data of symptom history collected by questionnaires which are subject to bias and which may therefore distort the measured relationship.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine family patterns of allergic disease using objective measurements of atopy and of airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR).
Methods: A large random sample of children aged 8-11 years was studied and 3 months later, their parents were also invited for study. Of the sample of 1655 children, both parents of 661 children were studied. In all subjects, respiratory illness history was measured by questionnaire, atopy by skin tests and AHR by responsiveness to histamine.
Results: The odds ratio for a child to have AHR if either parent had the same condition was approximately 2. 0, which was the same as the odds ratio for wheeze or diagnosed asthma in the presence of the same condition in either parent. The odds ratio for atopy was smaller (approximately 1.4, NS) but the risk of a nonatopic child having AHR if the parent had AHR was 3.0 (P = 0.01). The correlation between weal size in the child and parent was poor and the severity of AHR in the child was only modestly correlated with the severity of AHR in the parent (R = 0.51, P = 0.04).
Conclusion: The use of objective measurements did not strengthen the association between atopic or asthmatic conditions in the parent and child, but did suggest that atopy and AHR are inherited independently.