Background: In a prospective birth-cohort study, we assessed the relevance of mite and cat allergen exposure for the development of childhood asthma up to age 7 years.
Methods: Of 1314 newborn infants enrolled in five German cities in 1990, follow-up data at age 7 years were available for 939 children. Assessments included repeated measurement of specific IgE to food and inhalant allergens, measurement of indoor allergen exposure at 6 months, 18 months, and 3 years of age, and yearly interviews by a paediatrician. At age 7 years, pulmonary function was tested and bronchial hyper-responsiveness was measured in 645 children.
Findings: At age 7, the prevalence of wheezing in the past 12 months was 10.0% (94 of 938), and 6.1% (57 of 939) parents reported a doctor's diagnosis of asthma in their children. Sensitisation to indoor allergens was associated with asthma, wheeze, and increased bronchial responsiveness. However, no relation between early indoor allergen exposure and the prevalence of asthma, wheeze, and bronchial hyper-responsiveness was seen.
Interpretation: Our data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to environmental allergens causes asthma in childhood, but rather that the induction of specific IgE responses and the development of childhood asthma are determined by independent factors.