Background: The inability to measure IgE-based sensitivity to all allergens has limited our understanding of what portion of asthma is related to IgE. Total IgE measurement can potentially overcome this limitation.
Objective: We sought to determine the association between total IgE levels and asthma.
Methods: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006 examined a representative sample of the US population 6 years of age and older.
Results: The median total IgE level was 40.8 kU/L (interquartile range, 15.5-114 kU/L). Total IgE levels varied with age, sex, race/ethnicity, serum cotinine level, body size, and socioeconomic status. The prevalence of current asthma was 8.8%. The prevalence of atopy was 42.5%, as defined by 15 specific IgEs. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for asthma with a 10-fold increase in total IgE level was 2.18 (95% CI, 1.66-2.87). Total IgE level predicted asthma only among atopic subjects (OR, 2.41; 95% CI, 1.62-3.60) and not among nonatopic subjects (OR, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.72-1.71; interaction P = .005). Among atopic subjects, the association between total IgE level and asthma became stronger as the number of positive specific IgE test results increased. Asthma was present at even the lowest levels of total IgE, regardless of atopic status. Approximately 92% of atopic subjects were identified by 6 specific IgEs, but to increase the identification to more than 99% required 11 specific IgEs.
Conclusion: Total IgE levels are associated with asthma only among persons who have positive results for at least 1 allergen-specific IgE. Asthma independent of IgE is not uncommon in the US population. The complete identification of atopic subjects in a population requires a large panel of allergen-specific IgEs.