Background: Eczema, rhinitis, and asthma often coexist (comorbidity) in children, but the proportion of comorbidity not attributable to either chance or the role of IgE sensitisation is unknown. We assessed these factors in children aged 4-8 years.
Methods: In this prospective cohort study, we assessed children from 12 ongoing European birth cohort studies participating in MeDALL (Mechanisms of the Development of ALLergy). We recorded current eczema, rhinitis, and asthma from questionnaires and serum-specific IgE to six allergens. Comorbidity of eczema, rhinitis, and asthma was defined as coexistence of two or three diseases in the same child. We estimated relative and absolute excess comorbidity by comparing observed and expected occurrence of diseases at 4 years and 8 years. We did a longitudinal analysis using log-linear models of the relation between disease at age 4 years and comorbidity at age 8 years.
Findings: We assessed 16 147 children aged 4 years and 11 080 aged 8 years in cross-sectional analyses. The absolute excess of any comorbidity was 1·6% for children aged 4 years and 2·2% for children aged 8 years; 44% of the observed comorbidity at age 4 years and 50·0% at age 8 years was not a result of chance. Children with comorbidities at 4 years had an increased risk of having comorbidity at 8 years. The relative risk of any cormorbidity at age 8 years ranged from 36·2 (95% CI 26·8-48·8) for children with rhinitis and eczema at age 4 years to 63·5 (95% CI 51·7-78·1) for children with asthma, rhinitis, and eczema at age 4 years. We did longitudinal assessment of 10 107 children with data at both ages. Children with comorbidities at 4 years without IgE sensitisation had higher relative risks of comorbidity at 8 years than did children who were sensitised to IgE. For children without comorbidity at age 4 years, 38% of the comorbidity at age 8 years was attributable to the presence of IgE sensitisation at age 4 years.
Interpretation: Coexistence of eczema, rhinitis, and asthma in the same child is more common than expected by chance alone-both in the presence and absence of IgE sensitisation-suggesting that these diseases share causal mechanisms. Although IgE sensitisation is independently associated with excess comorbidity of eczema, rhinitis, and asthma, its presence accounted only for 38% of comorbidity, suggesting that IgE sensitisation can no longer be considered the dominant causal mechanism of comorbidity for these diseases.
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