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Eur Respir J. 2000 Jul;16(1):81-5.

Prevalence of wheeze during childhood: retrospective and prospective assessment.

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Dept of Child Health, Leicester University and Leicestershire and Rutland Healthcare Trust, UK.


The question "Has your child ever had wheezing or whistling in the chest at any time in the past?" is a simple and widely used proxy measure for the lifetime prevalence of asthma. Our aim was to test its validity in a longitudinal survey, comparing retrospective recall with prospective assessment of lifetime prevalence. A population-based cohort of 1,422 children, surveyed twice previously, was studied again at age 8-13 yrs by postal questionnaire using standardized questions from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). Of those traced (1,190) questionnaires were returned by 89%. The prevalence of current wheeze was higher than in the previous surveys (20.5% versus 12.4% and 12.5%). Reported "wheeze ever" increased significantly from survey 1 (15.6%) to survey 2 (22.4%) and survey 3 (39.2%) and was very similar to the cumulative lifetime prevalence assessed prospectively over three surveys (42.8%). The retrospective question had a good negative predictive value (97%) and a reasonable positive predictive value (65%) compared to prospective assessment. Children reporting "wheeze ever" (but not current wheeze) in surveys 1 and 2 had at survey 3 an asthma prevalence higher than never-wheezers but lower than current-wheezers. It is concluded that retrospective recall of wheeze at age 8-13 yrs is a valid proxy measure for the lifetime prevalence of wheeze.

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