Objectives: Development of asthma in children is influenced by interactions between genetic and environmental factors. It is unclear whether paternal or maternal histories of disease confer different risks. Previous population-based studies have not stratified analyses by child gender and sensitization status. Our aim was to study in detail the hereditary component of childhood asthma.
Methods: A population-based cohort of 3430 (97% of invited) 7- to 8-year-old school children participated in an expanded International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood survey, and two thirds were skin-prick tested. Heredity was defined as a family history of (1) asthma and (2) atopy (allergic rhinitis or eczema). Multivariate analyses corrected for known risk factors for asthma.
Results: At ages 7 to 8, prevalence of asthma was 5.3% among the children and 9.0% among the parents. In children without parental asthma or parental atopy, the prevalence of asthma was 2.8%. Corrected for parental asthma, parental atopy was a weak but significant risk factor. There were minor differences in the impact of parental disease between sensitized and nonsensitized children and between boys and girls.
Conclusions: As risk factors for childhood asthma, there were major differences between parental asthma and parental atopy. Sibling asthma was only a marker of parental disease. Interactions between parental disease and the child's allergic sensitization or gender were not statistically significant. Asthma in both parents conferred a multiplicative risk, whereas the effect of parental atopy was additive, however limited. Asthma and atopy, despite their causal relationship, are separate entities and could be inherited differently. This large, population-based, and well-characterized cohort study does not confirm parent-of-origin effects found in previous studies.