Background: For many years, the association between asthma and rhinitis has primarily been attributed to a common allergic background. Recently, it has been suggested that asthma and rhinitis are associated in the absence of atopy. The nature of this association is not well known.
Objective: The purpose of this study, which was performed in a large, longitudinal community population, was to determine the extent to which rhinitis is an independent risk factor for adult-onset asthma.
Methods: We carried out a nested case-control study from the longitudinal cohort of the Tucson Epidemiologic Study of Obstructive Lung Diseases. One hundred seventy-three incident patients with physician-confirmed asthma were compared with 2177 subjects who reported no asthma or shortness of breath with wheezing. Potential risk factors, including the presence of rhinitis, were assessed before the onset of asthma (patients) or before the last completed survey (control subjects).
Results: Rhinitis was a significant risk factor for asthma (crude odds ratio, 4.13; 95% confidence interval, 2.88-5.92). After adjustment for years of follow-up, age, sex, atopic status, smoking status, and presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the magnitude of the association was reduced but still highly significant (adjusted odds ratio, 3.21; 95% confidence interval, 2.19-4.71). After stratification, rhinitis increased the risk of development of asthma by about 3 times both among atopic and nonatopic patients and by more than 5 times among patients in the highest IgE tertile. Patients with rhinitis with persistent and severe nasal symptoms and a personal history of physician-confirmed sinusitis had an additional increased risk of asthma development.
Conclusion: We conclude that rhinitis is a significant risk factor for adult-onset asthma in both atopic and nonatopic subjects. The nature of the association between rhinitis and asthma is open to interpretation.