Author(s): Ronchetti R, Villa MP, Pagani J, Martella S, Guglielmi F
BACKGROUND: Differing or increasing prevalence of positive allergen skin-prick tests observed in Europe could at least in part be explained by population changes in histamine skin reactivity. These changes would also alter the relationship between positive allergen skin-prick tests and serum IgE. OBJECTIVE: To assess changes in histamine reactivity, allergen skin-prick tests and serum IgE in our geographical setting. METHODS: We compared the outcome of two epidemiological surveys conducted 16 years apart in unselected 9-year-old schoolchildren (170 in 1983 and 176 in 1999) from a semi-rural region in central Italy. Outcome measures were skin-prick tests with two histamine concentrations (10 and 1 mg/mL) and 11 locally relevant allergens; serum total and specific IgE for positive allergens. RESULTS: The two histamine concentrations induced significantly larger mean weal diameters in 1999 than in 1983 (10 mg/mL: 5.28+/-0.82 mm vs. 3.25+/-0.97 mm; P<0.001). Whereas the prevalence of subjects with at least one positive allergen-induced weal reaction (>or=3 mm) increased over the 16 years (from 15.3% in 1983 to 25.6% in 1999), the prevalence of positive skin-prick tests, expressed as the allergen/ histamine weal ratio, remained almost unchanged. A given allergen weal diameter yielded less total (P<0.05 by Student's t-test for cumulative weals <8 mm) and specific (P<0.01 by Student's t-test for weals <3 mm, P<0.05 by Kruskal-Wallis test) serum IgE in 1999 than in 1983. CONCLUSIONS: Although the causes and mechanisms remain unclear, the increased histamine skin reactivity over time is associated with an increase in positive allergen skin-prick tests. In the presence of increased tissue and organ susceptibility to histamine, minute amounts of specific IgE could have important biological consequences.