Abstract

While there is evidence for variations in prevalence rates of childhood wheeze and asthma between countries, longitudinal, individual-level data are needed to understand these differences. The aim of this study was to examine variations in prevalence rates of childhood asthma, wheeze and wheeze with asthma in Europe.

We analysed datasets from 10 MeDALL (Mechanisms of the Development of ALLergy) cohorts in eight countries, representing 26?663 children, to calculate prevalence rates of wheeze and asthma by child age and wheeze with asthma at age 4 years. Harmonised variables included outcomes parent-reported wheeze and parent-reported doctor-diagnosed asthma, and covariates maternal education, parental smoking, pets, parental asthma, doctor-diagnosed allergic rhinitis, doctor-diagnosed eczema and wheeze severity.

At age 4 years, asthma prevalence varied from 1.72% in Germany to 13.48% in England and the prevalence of wheeze varied from 9.82% in Greece to 55.37% in Spain. Adjusted estimates of the proportion of 4-year-old children with wheeze diagnosed with asthma remained highest in England (38.14%, 95% CI 31.38–44.90%) and lowest in Spain (15.94%, 95% CI 6.16–25.71%).

The large differences in prevalence rates of asthma, wheeze and wheeze with asthma at age 4 years between European cohorts may indicate that childhood asthma is more readily diagnosed in some countries while going unrecognised elsewhere.