Objective: To describe the incidence and prognosis of wheezing illness from birth to age 33 and the relation of incidence to perinatal, medical, social, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
Design: Prospective longitudinal study.
Setting: England, Scotland and Wales.
Subjects: 18,559 people born on 3-9 March 1958. 5801 (31%) contributed information at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, and 33 years. Attrition bias was evaluated using information on 14, 571 (79%) subjects.
Main outcome measure: History of asthma, wheezy bronchitis, or wheezing obtained from interview with subjects' parents at ages 7, 11, and 16 and reported at interview by subjects at ages 23 and 33.
Results: The cumulative incidence of wheezing illness was 18% by age 7, 24% by age 16, and 43% by age 33. Incidence during childhood was strongly and independently associated with pneumonia, hay fever, and eczema. There were weaker independent associations with male sex, third trimester antepartum haemorrhage, whooping cough, recurrent abdominal pain, and migraine. Incidence from age 17 to 33 was associated strongly with active cigarette smoking and a history of hay fever. There were weaker independent associations with female sex, maternal albuminuria during pregnancy, and histories of eczema and migraine. Maternal smoking during pregnancy was weakly and inconsistently related to childhood wheezing but was a stronger and significant independent predictor of incidence after age 16. Among 880 subjects who developed asthma or wheezy bronchitis from birth to age 7, 50% had attacks in the previous year at age 7; 18% at 11, 10% at 16, 10% at 23, and 27% at 33. Relapse at 33 after prolonged remission of childhood wheezing was more common among current smokers and atopic subjects.
Conclusion: Atopy and active cigarette smoking are major influences on the incidence and recurrence of wheezing during adulthood.