Gender differences in prevalence, diagnosis and incidence of allergic and non-allergic asthma: a population-based cohort
- Disease management
Although women with severe non-allergic asthma may represent a substantial proportion of adults with asthma in clinical practice, gender differences in the incidence of allergic and non-allergic asthma have been little investigated in the general population.
Gender differences in asthma prevalence, reported diagnosis and incidence were investigated in 9091 men and women randomly selected from the general population and followed up after 8-10 years as part of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. The protocol included assessment of bronchial responsiveness, IgE specific to four common allergens and skin tests to nine allergens.
Asthma was 20% more frequent in women than in men over the age of 35 years. Possible under-diagnosis of asthma appeared to be particularly frequent among non-atopic individuals, but was as frequent in women as in men. The follow-up of subjects without asthma at baseline showed a higher incidence of asthma in women than in men (HR 1.94; 95% CI 1.40 to 2.68), which was not explained by differences in smoking, obesity or lung function. More than 60% of women and 30% of men with new-onset asthma were non-atopic. The incidence of non-allergic asthma was higher in women than in men throughout all the reproductive years (HR 3.51; 95% CI 2.21 to 5.58), whereas no gender difference was observed for the incidence of allergic asthma.
This study shows that female sex is an independent risk factor for non-allergic asthma, and stresses the need for more careful assessment of possible non-allergic asthma in clinical practice, in men and women.