Background: Socioeconomic differences in allergic disease prevalence have been reported; asthma has been associated with poverty in the United States and hay fever and eczema with relative affluence elsewhere. It is not yet established to what degree such differences in disease prevalence reflect patterns of sensitization and specific allergen sensitivities.
Objective: We analyzed specific and total IgE measurements in a sample of 458 women, enriched for allergic disease, from the metropolitan Boston area to establish the relation of allergen sensitization to markers of socioeconomic status (SES) and to the prevalence and socioeconomic pattern of allergic disease in this community.
Methods: Total and specific IgE antibodies were measured with the UNICAP System; self-reported allergic disease, household income, education, and race-ethnicity were ascertained with a questionnaire; and a further marker of poverty (percentage living below the poverty level) in the women's area of residence was established on the basis of zip codes. Analysis was performed with SAS statistical software.
Results: Markers of low SES were univariately associated with increases in total IgE, number of allergen sensitizations, and levels of specific IgE. Socioeconomic differences in sensitization to cockroach (35% vs 6% in the highest and lowest poverty areas), animal (44% vs 26%), and ragweed (49% vs 23%) allergens were most marked. Sensitization primarily to indoor inhalant allergens (not ragweed or ryegrass) were associated with an increased risk of asthma, even after adjustment for SES.
Conclusion: We have demonstrated a socioeconomic gradient in sensitization that concords with increased rates of asthma in less affluent communities in this population.