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Eur Respir J. 1996 Dec;9(12):2541-52.

Prevalence of respiratory symptoms, bronchial hyperresponsiveness and atopy among adults: west and east Germany.

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  • 1Zentrum für Pneumologie und Thoraxchirurgie, Grosshansdorf, Germany.


The prevalence of respiratory symptoms, atopic sensitization and bronchial hyperresponsiveness was compared in a random sample of adults, 20-44 yrs of age, in two cities in West and East Germany, Hamburg and Erfurt, respectively. There were much higher levels of outdoor air pollution due to sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates in Erfurt, and major differences in living conditions during the last 40 yrs. Within the European Respiratory Health Survey, a short questionnaire was answered by 3,156 (80% response rate) subjects in Hamburg and 3,272 (74%) in Erfurt. A subset of responders to the short questionnaire completed a long questionnaire, spirometry, methacholine or bronchodilator test, skin test, and total and specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) measurements, with a total number of 1,159 participants in Hamburg and 731 in Erfurt. Six out of 8 questions on respiratory symptoms and diagnoses were answered in the affirmative more frequently in Hamburg than in Erfurt. In Hamburg, mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)% of predicted was 105 vs 107% in Erfurt (p < 0.0001), and bronchial hyperresponsiveness was more frequently observed in Hamburg than in Erfurt (25 vs 19%; p < 0.05). Atopic sensitization was more prevalent in Hamburg than in Erfurt regarding the results of skin tests against grass pollen (24 vs 19%; p < 0.05), birch pollen (19 vs 8%; p < 0.0005), cat (10 vs 2%; p < 0.0005), and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (14 vs 10%; p < 0.05). This was reflected by the prevalences of positive specific IgE values, which were higher in Hamburg than in Erfurt for grass (26 vs 20%; p < 0.05), birch (20 vs 10%; p < 0.0005) and cat (12 vs 8%; p < 0.05). In Hamburg, compared to Erfurt, there was: a lower mean number of siblings (p < 0.005); a higher degree of childhood and current exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (p < 0.005); and a higher frequency of fitted carpets and reported mould or mildew inside the house (p < 0.005). Therefore, these data may support the hypothesis that childhood factors and exposure to indoor allergens and irritants may have been more relevant for the development of asthma and atopy than the potential long-term exposure to high concentrations of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.

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