Background: Changing occurrence rates of asthma, allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis are of public health concern and require surveillance. Changes in prevalence rates of these atopic diseases were monitored during 10 years and their trend with time was determined taking into account the influence of personal and environmental risk factors.
Methods: Four cross-sectional surveys in 5-7-year old children were performed in seven different communities in Switzerland between 1992 and 2001. Prevalence of respiratory and allergic symptoms and of affecting risk factors including parental environmental concern were assessed using a standardized parental questionnaire.
Results: A total of 988 (74.1%), 1778 (79.0%), 1406 (82.6%) and 1274 (78.9%) children participated, respectively, in the 1992, 1995, 1998 and 2001 surveys. Prevalence rates of asthma and hay fever symptoms remained quite stable over time (wheeze/past year: 8.8%, 7.8%, 6.4% and 7.4%, sneezing attack during pollen season: 5.0%, 5.6%, 5.4% and 4.6%). Rates of reported atopic dermatitis symptoms (specific skin rash/past year: 4.6%, 6.5%,7.4% and 7.6%) showed an increase over time, but those of diagnosis of eczema did not show a clear pattern (18.4%, 15.7%, 14.0% and 15.2%). Stratified analysis by parental environmental concern and by parental atopy showed similar trends. Rates of atopic dermatitis symptoms showed significant increase in girls but stayed stable in boys.
Conclusion: Results of these four consecutive surveys suggest that the increase in prevalence of asthma and hay fever in 5-7-year old children living in Switzerland may have ceased. However, symptoms of atopic dermatitis may still be on the rise, especially among girls.