The aim of the analysis was to test whether total serum IgE levels, specific serum IgE levels, and asthma symptoms are independent predictors of bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), after controlling for known risk factors or potential confounders. The study was carried out on a sample of 875 young adults, 20-44 years old, who took part in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey in Italy. The subjects underwent a dose-response methacholine challenge test. We also measured airway caliber as the baseline FEV1 in absolute terms and as percentage of forced vital capacity (FVC); skin wheal response to 11 common environmental allergens; and total and specific serum IgE levels to mites, molds, pets, and respiratory symptoms by means of a standardized questionnaire. Atopy (positive skin prick test and/or positive specific IgE assay), total IgE, asthma symptoms, airway caliber, and age appeared to be independent predictors of BHR. When all the other risk factors were taken into account, atopy and total IgE were associated with a threefold increase in BHR risk and thus emerged as the main determinants of BHR. The importance of symptom status as a determinant of BHR decreased remarkably after controlling for atopy and IgE: the odds ratio of current asthmatics to asymptomatic subjects decreased from 15.3 to 8.8. When controlling for symptoms and atopy, a family history of allergic diseases and early respiratory infections was not found to be associated with BHR. Both FEV1 and FEV1/FVC were strongly and inversely associated with BHR. When airway caliber was taken into account, older age was associated with decreased responsiveness, and the level of responsiveness did not differ significantly between males and females and between smokers and nonsmokers. The results from this analysis indicate that at any given age, irrespective of sex and smoking habits, total serum IgE, specific IgE, airway caliber, and asthma symptoms are the main independent factors influencing the occurrence of BHR in a young adult sample
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