Background: This study is part of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS), which uses a common methodology in different areas throughout the world. This paper describes the prevalences of reported asthma, asthma-like symptoms and nasal allergies, their relationships to age group and sex, and the relationships of asthma-like symptoms to current asthma, in the general population aged 20-44 years of three French urban areas.
Methods: The study population of 2804 subjects in Grenoble, 3774 in Montpellier and 3152 in Paris (18th district), randomly selected from electoral rolls, answered a postal questionnaire (stage I of ECRHS). The response rates were 77.8%, 68.6% and 74.4%, respectively.
Results: The prevalences were approximately 14% for wheezing, 16% for chest tightness and 4.5% for nocturnal shortness of breath in the three areas. Asthma attacks in the last 12 months were reported by 2.7% of subjects in Grenoble, 3.5% of subjects in Montpellier and 4.0% of subjects in Paris (P = 0.02). For nasal allergies, the prevalences were 28.0%, 34.3% and 30.8%, respectively (P < 0.001). Asthma was inversely correlated to age (higher prevalence in the youngest) but was not related to sex. Neither age distribution nor sex ratio explained the differences between areas. Among the asthma-like symptoms, wheezing and nocturnal shortness of breath correlated strongly with asthma, chest tightness correlated moderately and nocturnal coughing correlated poorly.
Conclusion: The prevalences observed were higher than expected from previous comparable French studies in young adults. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of a recent increase of asthma and allergies.