Background: A study was undertaken to see whether the prevalence of asthma has changed since a survey was conducted in 1988, using the same methods that showed an increase during the previous 15 years.
Methods: A survey of 12 year old children was conducted in schools in South Wales where surveys had taken place in 1973 and 1988. The survey comprised a parentally completed questionnaire and an exercise challenge test, performed when no bronchodilator had been recently used.
Results: In 1973, 1988, and 2003, questionnaires were obtained for 817, 965 and 1148 children, respectively; the exercise test was performed by 812, 960 and 1019 children, respectively. The prevalence of reported wheeze in the last year rose during each 15 year period (9.8%, 15.2%, 19.7%), with an even steeper rise in reported asthma ever (5.5%, 12.0%, 27.3%). There was a continued increase in wheeze attributed to running, in terms of all children (5.8%, 10.5%, 16.0%) and also as the proportion of those with a history of wheeze (34.1%, 47.0%, 57.3%). The use of inhaled corticosteroids (not available in 1973) increased fourfold between 1988 and 2003. The prevalence of exercise induced bronchoconstriction rose between 1973 and 1988 but had declined by 2003.
Conclusions: The rise in the prevalence of asthmatic symptoms has continued since 1988. This appears to conflict with a reported recent decline, unless asthma prevalence peaked in the 1990s. The decline in exercise induced bronchoconstriction is probably attributable to better control of the disease as more children are now using inhaled corticosteroids as preventive treatment.