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  • Research article
  • Open Access
  • Open Peer Review

Parental-reported allergic disorders and emergency department presentations for allergy in the first five years of life; a longitudinal birth cohort

BMC Pediatrics201818:169

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-018-1148-1

  • Received: 12 September 2017
  • Accepted: 8 May 2018
  • Published:
Open Peer Review reports

Abstract

Background

To measure rates of parental-report of allergic disorders and ED presentations for allergic disorders in children, and to describe factors associated with either.

Methods

An existing cohort of 3404 children born between 2006 and 2011 (Environments for Healthy Living) with prospectively collected pre-natal, perinatal and follow-up data were linked to i) nationwide Medicare and pharmaceutical data and ii) Emergency Department (ED) data from four hospitals in Australia. Parental-reported allergy was assessed in those who returned follow-up questionnaires. ED presentation was defined as any presentation for a suite of allergic disorders, excluding asthma. Univariate analysis and multivariate logistic regression were used to descibe risk factors for both parental-reported allergy and ED presentation for an allergic disorder.

Results

The incidence of parental-reported child allergy at 1, 3 and 5 years of age was 7.8, 7.8 and 12.6%, respectively. Independent predictors of parental-report of allergy in multivariate analysis were parental-report of asthma (OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.4–3.4) or eczema (OR 4.3, 95% CI 3.1–6.1) and age > 6 months at introduction of solids (OR 1.3, 95% CI 1.0–1.7). Factors associated with ED presentations for allergy, which occurred in 3.6% of the cohort, were presence of maternal asthma (OR 2.3 95% CI:1.1, 4.9) and child born in spring (OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.1, 2.7).

Conclusions

More than 10% of children up to 5 years have a parental-reported allergic disorder, and 3.6% presented to ED. Parental-report of eczema and/or asthma and late introduction of solids were predictors of parental-report of allergy. Spring birth and maternal asthma were predictors for ED presentation for allergy.

Keywords

  • Allergy
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Birth cohort
  • Emergency department
  • Longitudinal study

Background

Allergic disorders are common and increasing, especially in children [1]. Allergic disorders consist of a wide spectrum of conditions, including rashes, atopic eczema, and most worryingly anaphylaxis. They represent an immune response to allergens, which are environmental substances that are normally considered harmless [2].

Common known triggers for allergic diseases and/or anaphylaxis include insect stings (especially from the Hymenoptera family of wasps, bees and ants), drugs (especially β-lactam antibiotics), and food (especially nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and milk) [3]. Allergies seem to be more common in children than in adults, with food allergy prevalence reported between 7 and 10% in children [1].

The cause of the apparent increase in allergic disorders is unclear. Studies on risk factors for the development of allergic disorders have led to a number of meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies [1, 4]. From review articles [57] a common emerging theme is that allergic disorders are caused by a complex interrelationship between genetics, environment, and exposures both in-utero and during early infancy [5, 8]. We outline a summary of the literature on risk factors in Additional file 1.

Despite the noted high prevalence of allergic disorders in the community and the mild nature of the majority of allergic disorders, they can occasionally be more severe and anaphylactic reactions can be life-threatening. There are limited data available characterizing patients who present to the Emergency Department (ED) with allergic conditions. One French study [9] reported that allergic disorders represented 1% of all ED presentations, but was conducted nearly 20 years ago and did not report on children less than 10 years of age.

The overall aim of this study was to describe contemporaneous data for allergy presentations to the ED in the first years of life and to provide further understanding of (modifiable) associated risk factors. This study aims to measure the rates of, and describe factors associated with; 1) parental-report of allergy in children, and 2) ED presentations with allergic disorders in children in the first 5 years of life.

Methods

Study design

This study links data on children enrolled in a prospective birth cohort (Environments for Healthy Living [EFHL]: Griffith Birth Cohort study [10], registered Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12610000931077) to data from i) the Emergency Department Information System (EDIS) of four public hospitals, ii) the nationwide Medicare Benefit Scheme (MBS) and iii) the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Setting

From 2006 to 2011 inclusive, pregnant women from 24 weeks gestation who attended one of the only three public hospitals in the area with a birthing service were enrolled in the EFHL cohort [10]. This area services a population of approximately 800,000 people. A fourth new public hospital ED opened in the area in September 2007. ED data were available for EFHL children for the period from November 2006 to December 2013.

EFHL data

The EFHL dataset included maternal, pregnancy/child, and household data and was collected by self-completed questionnaires by the primary caregiver at enrolment and when their child reached 12 months, 3 and 5 years of age. The baseline survey consisted of 48 self-report items including maternal, household and demographic factors during pregnancy [11]. Parents also provided consent at the time of enrolment to access additional gestational and birth information from hospital perinatal records after the delivery, hospital data and emergency department data.

Study subjects, outcome definition and comparison groups

Study subjects were children born to mothers enrolled in the EFHL study. The primary outcomes of interest included the rate of parental-reported allergic disorders as obtained through questionnaires returned at 1, 3 and 5 years (Table 1), and the rate of ED presentations with an ICD-10 code of allergy or allergic disorder (Fig. 1). Asthma was not included as an allergic disorder. We included ‘rash’, as an allergic disorder, although other etiologies could be the cause of this diagnosis. As such (sensitivity) analyses were conducted for ED diagnoses of allergy with and without ‘rash’ included. Mothers or primary caregivers completed the surveys and are hereafter grouped as parents for ease of reporting. The one-year questionnaire data was included as source data for potential risk factors (e.g. breast feeding or introduction of solids) for the parental-report of allergy analysis, comparing risk factors amongst children with and without a parental-reported allergy. For the ED presentation analysis, baseline questionnaire data were used to identify risk factors for children with an ED presentation for allergy, compared to children with other ED presentations. For both parental-report and ED presentation analyses, PBS data were utilized. Table 2 summarises the available subjects for both parental-reported allergy analysis and ED presentation analysis.
Table 1

Enrolment into the EFHL cohort study, questionnaire response rates, and consent to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) linkage

Cohort year

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Total

Live births

n = 631

n = 477

n = 456

n = 628

n = 715

n = 497

n = 3404

Questionnaire returned at:

 12 months

507 (80.3%)

354 (74.2%)

308 (67.5%)

404 (64.3%)

398 (55.8%)

230 (46.3%)

2201 (64.7%)

 3 years

391 (62.0%)

279 (58.5%)

230 (50.4%)

317 (50.5%)

348 (48.8%)

 

1565 (46.0%)

 5 years

271 (42.9%)

196 (41.1%)

181 (39.7%)

   

648 (19.0%)

Consent given to PBS linkage

 

352 (55.8%)

272 (57.0%)

292 (64.0%)

385 (61.3%)

391 (54.8%)

220 (44.3%)

1912 (56.2%)

EFHL Environments for Healthy Living

Fig. 1
Fig. 1

ICD-10 codes included in the definition of allergy

Table 2

Samples used for analysis of i) self-reported allergy and ii) ED presentation with allergic disorder

ICD-10

Description

J30.1

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis due to pollen

J30.4

Allergic rhinitis, unspecified

J45.0

Allergic rhinitis with asthma or predominantly allergic asthma

J67a

Allergic alveolitis and pneumonitis due to inhaled organic dust and particles of fungal, actinomycetic or other origin

K52.2a

Allergic gastroenteritis and colitis

L20.0a

Atopic dermatitis

L20.8a

Atopic dermatitis

L20.9

Atopic dermatitis

L23.0

Allergic contact dermatitis due to metals

L23.9

Allergic contact dermatitis unspecified

L50.0

Allergic urticaria

L50.9

Urticaria, unspecified

R21

Rash and other nonspecific eruptions

T78.0a

Anaphylactic shock due to adverse food reaction

T78.2

Anaphylactic shock, unspecified

T78.4

Allergy, NOS

T80.5a

Anaphylactic shock due to serum

T88.1

Rash following immunization

T88.6a

Anaphylactic shock due to medication properly administered

T88.7

Allergic reaction to medicine properly administered

aAlthough these ICD-10 codes were eligible for inclusion, there were no cases of children in this study with these codes. ICD-10: International Classification of Disease (tenth edition)

Administrative data sources

Table 1 summarizes enrolment and consent timeframes for relevant data sets in this study. The following administrative databases were linked to the EFHL data:

EDIS data

Routinely collected state-wide data from EDIS were extracted from the four public hospitals. This included baseline variables (such as hospital name), ED process variables (i.e. triage category, discharge destination) and clinical variables (i.e. primary presenting complaint and ICD-10 diagnostic codes). The triage scale used in Australia is the Australasian Triage Scale (ATS), a five-tiered scale that categorizes presentations by urgency, from 1 (immediate review and treatment required) to 5 (treatment/review required within 120 min) [12].

Linkage between EFHL participants and EDIS datasets used a unique identifier and was completed by personnel at the Health Statistics Branch of the Queensland Department of Health, and by the Health Economics and Casemix Unit, Northern NSW Local Health District.

MBS and PBS data

Over half of parents (56%) provided consent to access the Australian government databases of MBS and PBS. Linkage between EFHL and PBS was enabled using participant Medicare numbers. Linkage to our unique study identifier (ChildID), including manual matching and cleaning of conflicts was completed by Medicare Australia. Only prescriptions supplied prior to presentation date or follow-up time point (1 yr., 3 yr., 5 yr) were counted when comparing medication usage between children with and without allergy.

Statistical analysis

EFHL data was managed with Stata 12.1. Data analyses were undertaken using R [13]. Chi-square tests were used to compare associations between parental-reported allergy and potential risk factors. The presentation rate to ED of children with allergic disorders was calculated based on the whole EFHL cohort (n = 3404, Table 1). A p-value of < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Prevalence rates and 95% confidence intervals were computed using the Mid-p exact test for person-time rates. Person-years (PYs) for prevalence rates of parental-report allergy were calculated by adding the number of years each child had contributed to the study. Person-years for the prevalence of presentation to ED with allergy was calculated for each child based on the last date of ED data available (31 December 2013) minus the child’s date of birth, and summed across the cohort. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify variables independently associated with parental report of allergy as well as ED diagnosis of allergy (including and excluding ‘rash’). For the parental report model, variables significant at a p < 0.10 level in the univariate analysis and with complete data on at least 90% of children were considered in a forward stepwise conditional regression model with entry and exit criteria of p < 0.10. The same regression technique was used for models determining variables associated with ED presentation for allergy (including and excluding “rash” lead to two separate models). However, because some of the key univariate predictors had > 10% missing data for this model, various models were built on the full sample as well as for subsets with complete data on key variables found to be significant in univariate analysis. Interactions between variables were assessed; significant interactions (p < .05) were accounted for in all models. In determining the best model, the number of records, the strength of the associations, the persistence of covariates across models, and the Negelkerke’s R square value were considered.

Ethics approval

The Human Research Ethics Committees of both the participating health service districts, and Griffith University approved this study, including linkage of data. For each participant written informed consent was obtained (from the parent or primary caregiver) for completion of a maternal baseline survey, the release of hospital perinatal data related to the birth of their child and linkage of their child’s inpatient state hospital records.

Results

Parental-report of allergy in children

Of the 3404 children in EFHL, questionnaire data for at least one time point were available for 2452 unique children (72%), including 2201 children with available one-year data (Table 1). The allergy questions were answered for 2182 children at 1 year, and for 1213 and 627 children at 3 and 5 years, respectively (Table 1). Allergy at any time in the child’s life was reported in 7.8% of children at 1 year, in 7.8% of children at 3 years, and in 12.6% of children with 5 years follow-up (Table 3). By 5 years of age, 255 children had an allergy as reported by their parent, representing 10.4% of the starting cohort of children who returned at least one questionnaire.
Table 3

Proportion of children with a parental-report of allergy by age attained, and cumulative prevalence rate of children with parental report of allergy per 1000 person-years

 

12 months

3 years

5 years

n = 2182

n = 1213

n = 627

Person-years =2182

Person-years =4608

Person-years =5862

n

(%)

n

%

n

%

Parental reported allergy

 Yes

171

7.8%

93

7.8%

56

12.6%

 No

2011

92.2%

1115

92.3%

388

87.4%

 Cumulative number of unique children with allergy

171

227

255

 Cumulative prevalence rate per 1000 person-years [95% CI]

78.4 [67.3, 90.8]

49.3 [43.2, 56.0]

43.5 [38.4, 49.1]

CI confidence interval

Table 4 describes univariate analysis of parental report of allergy by duration of follow up and potential risk factors in proportions and person-years, respectively.
Table 4

Parental-report of allergy by child’s age at follow-up and for all ages combined, and potential risk factors

 

Age at follow-up

   

Characteristic

12 months (n = 2182)

3 years (n = 1213)

5 years (n = 627)

All ages combined

Total N

n with allergy

% with allergy

Total N

n with allergy

% with allergy

Total N

n with allergy

% with allergy

Total person-years

Rate ratio

RR [95% CI]

Gender

 Male

1094

93

8.5%

571

56

9.8%*

211

36

17.1%**

2658

69.6

1.4 [1.2,1.8]

 Female

1028

74

7.2%

607

37

6.1%

226

19

8.4%

2693

48.3

1.0 (Reference)

Maternal Indigenous status

 Not indigenous

2065

159

7.7%

1177

93

7.9%

433

55

12.7%

5286

58.1

1.0 (Reference)

 ATSI

29

4

13.8%

0

0

0.0%

0

0

0.0%

29

138.0

1.8 [0.6, 4.7]

Birthweight

  < 2500 g

59

7

11.8%

33

3

9.1%

0

0

0.0%

125

79.8

1.3 [0.7, 2.5]

  ≥ 2500 g

1905

160

8.4%

1154

90

7.8%

426

55

12.9%

4212

59.3

1.0 (Reference)

Season of birth

 Summer/Spring

1873

148

7.9%

958

68

7.1%

389

44

11.3%

4568

56.9

1.0 (Reference)

 Autumn/Winter

301

22

7.3%

240

25

10.4%

56

12

21.4%

894

66.0

1.2 [0.8, 1.5]

Maternal education

 Did not complete high school

312

29

9.3%

186

21

11.3%

64

7

10.9%

812

70.2

1.2 [0.9, 1.6]

 Completed high school

1679

141

8.4%

1000

72

7.2%

380

49

12.9%

4438

59.0

1.0 (Reference)

Household income (annual)

  < $40,000

347

26

7.5%

175

11

6.3%

60

11

18.3%

816

58.8

0.8 [0.7, 1.1]

 $40,000 - $70,000

635

47

7.4%

357

25

7.0%

144

15

10.4%

1638

53.1

  ≥ $70,000

906

77

8.5%

511

47

9.2%

188

24

12.8%

2303

64.3

1.0 (Reference)

Other children living in household

 0

973

72

7.4%

492

32

6.5%

176

25

14.2%

2310

55.9

1.0 (Reference: 0–2)

 1–2

734

47

6.4%

418

33

7.9%

167

18

10.8%

1903

51.5

 3 or more

532

50

9.4%

276

27

9.8%

95

13

13.7%

1273

70.7

1.3 [1.0, 1.7]

Child care attendance (in first year of life)

 Yes

571

52

9.1%

816

62

7.6%

 

Not applicable

2203

51.7

1.0 (Reference)

 No

1575

115

7.3%

380

30

7.9%

 

2335

62.1

1.2 [0.9, 1.5]

Breast feeding before discharged newborn

 Yes

1072

89

8.3%

524

33

6.3%

204

23

11.3%

2527

57.4

1.2 [0.7, 2.1]

 N0

106

5

4.7%

51

5

9.8%

30

3

10.0%

268

48.4

1.0 (Reference)

 Not asked

935

72

7.7%

604

55

9.1%

200

29

14.5%

2544

61.3

Not included

Ever breast-fed by 12 months of age

 Yes

2025

160

7.9%

1053

80

7.6%

408

53

13.0%

4946

59.2

1.1 [0.6, 1.9]

 No

132

9

6.8%

63

5

7.9%

0

0

0.0%

259

54.1

1.0 (Reference)

Breastfeeding duration

 0–3 months

720

59

8.2%

361

26

7.2%

138

17

12.3%

1718

59.4

1.0 (Reference all < 6 months)

 3–6 months

388

31

8.0%

196

9

4.6%

77

9

11.7%

933

52.5

  > 6 months

500

36

7.2%

276

27

9.8%

105

19

18.1%

1261

65.0

1.1 [0.9, 1.5]

Age at first consumption of solids

 0–3 months

286

24

8.4%

143

5

3.5%

48

5

10.4%

668

50.9

1.0 (Reference all < 6 months)

 3–6 months

1759

139

7.9%

916

76

8.3%

350

42

12.0%

4291

59.9

  > 6 months

92

7

7.6%

55

5

9.1%

26

6

23.1%

254

70.9

1.2 [0.8, 1.9]

Smoking during pregnancy

 Yes

423

41

9.7%

247

19

7.7%

89

5

5.6%*

1095

59.4

1.0 [0.8, 1.3]

 No

1743

129

7.4%

949

74

7.8%

355

50

14.1%

4350

58.2

1.0 (Reference)

Use of antibiotics (in first year of life)

 None

335

69

20.6%**

232

44

19%***

41

7

17.1%

880

136.4

2.3 [1.6, 3.2]a

 1–4 prescriptions

226

21

9.3%

167

12

7.2%

47

7

14.9%

653

61.2

4.2 [2.3, 8.4]b

 5+ prescriptions

34

4

11.7%

128

5

3.9%

7

1

13.9%

305

32.8

 

ATSI Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, CI Confidence Interval

aReference group for nil prescriptions vs. 1–4

bReference group for nil prescriptions vs. 5 +

* p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001, Reference = reference group

Parents of male children were more likely to report allergy in their children at 3 and 5 years (Table 4). The cumulative prevalence of allergy for boys over the period was 1.4 times higher than that for girls (Risk Ratio [RR] 1.4 [95% CI 1.2,1.8], Table 4).

Children with three or more other children in the household had a higher risk of allergy compared to children with 0–2 other children in the household (RR = 1.3 [1.0, 1.7], Table 4).

There appeared to be a trend towards lower parental-report of allergy in children who had solids introduced in the first 3 months of life compared to other children, most notable at the 3-year and 5 year time points (Table 4).

At 5 years, parents who were non-smokers during pregnancy reported more allergic disorders in their children than parents who smoked (14.1% vs. 5.6%; p = 0.03, Table 4). This finding did not persist when the cumulative rate was considered across all time points (Table 4).

The following (potential risk) factors were not significantly associated with parental-reported allergy in univariate analysis: season of birth, birthweight, maternal education level, household annual income, childcare attendance, breast feeding (ever, and duration), and passive smoking exposure (Table 4).

The logistic regression model considered data on 1942 children; 235 of these had an allergy reported at any time during follow-up. Variables considered in the model were: breast feeding at 12 months, aboriginal or Torres strait island ethnicity (ATSI), birth season, mother’s age, mother’s education status, other children at home (0,1–2 or 3+), smoking during pregnancy, mother’s place of birth, passive smoke exposure, gender, birthweight (< 2500 g and > =2500 g), gestational age (< 37 weeks vs 37+ weeks), age at first food (< 3 months, 3–6 months, 6+ months), child has asthma, child has eczema, and child care (ever) (data not shown). The interaction term of parental-report eczema and parental-report asthma was significant (p = 0.003), with a parental-report of asthma or eczema (+/− asthma) significantly associated with parental-report allergy. These variables were thus combined in the model as one variable according to the magnitude of their effect on self-report allergy, with a coding of neither (reference), parental-report of asthma (but no eczema), and parental-report of eczema (with or without asthma).

The following variables were univariately statistically significantly associated with parental-reported allergy: birthweight (continuous), age at first food, child has asthma, child has eczema, child care (ever). When combined with other potentially predictive variables, Table 5 shows the best model identified included the following significant variables: parental-report of asthma (adjusted Odds Ratio: aOR 2.2, 95% CI 1.4–3.4), parental-report of eczema (aOR 4.3, 95% CI 3.1–6.1) whether the child had attended childcare (aOR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1–1.9), and age of first solid intake > 6 months (aOR 1.3, 95% CI 1.0–1.7).
Table 5

Logistic regression results: Variables significantly associated with parental report of allergy by 5 years of age in 1942 children from a birth cohort

Variable

Total children (n)

Self-report allergy (%)

Crude odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Child care status:

 Attended childcare

1283

12.9%

1.4 (1.1, 1.8)

0.017

1.4 (1.1, 1.9)

0.019

 Did not attend childcare

994

9.7%

1.0a

 

1.0a

 

Other self-report conditions:

 Child has neither eczema nor asthma

1742

8.8%

1.0a

 

1.0a

<.001

 Child has asthma but no eczema

176

16.5%

2.0 (1.3, 3.1)

<.001

2.2 (1.4,3.4)

 

 Child has eczema (+/− asthma)

248

28.6%

4.1 (3.0, 5.7)

<.000

4.3 (3.1,6.1)

 

Age (months) at first food

  < 3 months

68

7.4%

NA

0.07b

1.0ac

 

 Between 3 and 6 months

1403

11.3%

  

1.0ac

 

 6 months and older

635

13.5%

  

1.3 (1.0, 1.7)c

0.05

aReference category

bchi-square for linear trend

c< 3 and 3–6 months combined as reference group

ED presentations with allergic disorders

There were a total of 5118 ED presentations in this cohort of children aged 0–5 years. Allergic disorders (not including asthma), accounted for 3.6% (182) of these presentations from 160 of the 3404 children in the cohort. The median ED length of stay was 1.9 h. Fifteen children (8.2%) were admitted to hospital; most were assigned an Australian Triage Scale (ATS) category 3 (59%) or 4 (23%), with 14% receiving a more urgent classification (ATS 2; 13% and ATS 1; 1.1%).

Over one-third of presentations (66 of 182) with allergic disorders occurred during the first year of life (Table 6). There were two presentations due to anaphylaxis yielding a prevalence of 0.59 per 1000 PYs for anaphylaxis in the first 5 years of life.
Table 6

Number and cumulative prevalence rate of presentations to ED with an allergic disorder, by age group

Allergic disorder - type

By 12 months, n

by 3 years, n

by 5 years, n

Rash

36

62

70

Allergic reaction, NOS

6

27

40

Urticaria, NOS

8

24

30

Adverse reaction to medication

4

10

11

Allergic contact dermatitis

6

11

16

Allergic rhinitis

1

5

8

Atopic dermatitis

3

3

3

Anaphylaxis

1

1

2

Other

1

2

2

Total presentations, n

66

145

182

Total person-years

3404

9871

14,023

Prevalence per 1000 person-years [95%CI]

19.4 [15.1, 24.5]

14.7 [12.4, 17.2]

13.0 [11.2, 15.0]

ED Emergency Department, CI Confidence Interval, NOS Not otherwise specified

By 12 months of age, 1.8%, of the cohort had presented to ED with an allergic disorder. There was a decreasing cumulative prevalence of allergy presentation to ED, from 19.4 per 1000 person-years to 13.0 per 1000 person years as the children grew older (Table 6). ED presentation with allergy by 1 year of age occurred at a quarter of the rate of parental report of allergy (19.4 per 1000 PY compared to 78.4 per 1000 PY, Tables 3 and 6).

Univariate analysis showed that children who presented to the ED with an allergy during the first 5 years of life were more likely to be born in spring and have a mother with asthma. (Table 7). These findings persisted in the multivariate analysis as shown in Table 8, with an adjusted odds ratio for ED presentation with allergy (including diagnosis of rash) of 1.7 [95% CI 1.1–2.7] and 2.3 [95% CI 1.1–4.9], respectively. The same variables were found to be independent predictors of similar magnitude if diagnoses of ‘rash’ were excluded (Table 9).
Table 7

Characteristics of children presenting to ED in the first five years of life: children presenting with allergy compared to all other children presenting

Characteristic

Child with allergy presentation (n = 160)

Child with other ED presentation (n = 1776)

n

%

n

%

Gender

 Male

83

52.9%

948

54.2%

 Female

74

47.1%

801

45.8%

Maternal Indigenous status

 Not indigenous

151

98.1%

1665

97.8%

 ATSI

3

1.9%

37

2.2%

Birthweight

  < 2500 g

3

1.9%

43

2.5%

  ≥ 2500 g

155

98.1%

1704

97.5%

Season of birth*

 Springa

113

70.6%

1064

59.9%

 Summer

13

8.1%

267

15.0%

 Autumn

4

2.5%

56

3.2%

 Winter

30

18.8%

389

21.9%

Maternal education

 Did not complete high school

41

25.6%

376

21.2%

 Completed high school

119

74.4%

1400

78.8%

Household income (annual)

  < $40,000

38

27.9%

335

22.7%

 $40,000 - $70,000

40

29.4%

509

34.5%

  > $70,000

58

42.6%

632

42.8%

Mother’s country of birth

 Australia/ New Zealand

99

61.9%

1069

60.2%

 Other

61

38.1%

707

39.8%

Other children living in household

 0

37

35.9%

463

41.4%

 1–2

59

57.3%

564

50.4%

 3 or more

7

6.8%

91

8.1%

Mother has asthma*

 Yesb

9

8.0%

53

3.7%

 No

103

92.0%

1365

96.3%

Child care attendance by 1 yr

 Yes

30

27.3%

318

27.0%

 No

80

72.7%

861

73.0%

Child care attendance by 3 yrs

 Yes

43

61.4%

590

69.7%

 No

27

38.6%

257

30.3%

Breast feeding before discharged newborn

 Yes

87

54.4%

1022

57.5%

 No

9

5.6%

117

6.6%

 Not asked

64

40.0%

637

35.9%

Breast feeding duration

 0–3 months

16

25.0%

213

27.8%

 3–6 months

16

25.0%

185

24.1%

  > 6 months

32

50.0%

369

48.1%

Age at first consumption of solids

 0–3 months

3

2.9%

47

4.1%

 3–6 months

70

68.6%

754

65.9%

  > 6 months

29

28.4%

344

30.0%

Smoking during pregnancy

 Yes

44

27.8%

460

26.0%

 No

114

72.2%

1311

74.0%

Epi-pen prescribed

 none

159

99.4%

1768

99.5%

 1+ prescriptions

1

0.6%

8

0.5%

Use of corticosteroids

 none

143

89.4%

1586

89.3%

 1+ prescriptions

17

10.6%

190

10.7%

Use of antibiotics

 none

149

92.6%

1613

89.9%

 1+ prescriptions

11

7.4%

163

10.1%

ED Emergency Department, ATSI Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

aRR (95% CI) for spring compared to all other seasons = 1.6 (1.1–2.2)

bRR (95% CI) for mother with asthma = 2.1 (1.1, 3.9)

*p < 0.05

Table 8

Logistic regression results: Variables significantly associated with ED presentation with allergy (including rash) vs any other condition, by 5 years of age

Variable

Total children (n)

Self-report allergy (%)

Crude odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Season of birth

 Spring

1177

9.6%

1.6 (1.1, 2.3)

0.008

1.7 (1.1, 2.7)

0.011

 Other season

759

6.2%

1.0†

 

1.0a

 

Mother has asthma

 Yes

62

14.5%

2.3 (1.1,4.7)

0.026

2.3 (1.1,4.9)

0.025

 No

1468

7.0%

1.0†

 

1.0†

 

aReference category

Table 9

Logistic regression results. Variables significantly associated with ED presentation with allergy (excluding rash) vs any other condition, by 5 years of age

Variable

Total children (n)

Self-report allergy (%)

Crude odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)

P value

Season of birth

 Spring

1131

5.9%

1.7 (1.1, 2.7)

0.02

2.2 (1.2, 4.0)

0.011

 Other season

738

3.5%

1.0a

 

1.0a

 

Mother has asthma

 Yes

59

10.2%

2.9 (1.2,6.9)

0.015

3.0 (1.2,7.3)

0.016

 No

1419

3.8%

1.0a

 

1.0a

 

aReference category

There were no statistically significant differences in gender, mother’s socioeconomic status, the number of children living in the household, breastfeeding duration, or the age at introduction of solids for children presenting with an allergy compared to other ED presentations (Table 7).

Discussion

This study used prospectively collected antenatal, perinatal and follow-up data from an existing birth cohort to study allergic disorders children under the age of 5 years, including their presentations to ED.

Our study was consistent with the existing literature for several other known risk factors for allergy such as male gender [14], birth in spring [15], co-existent eczema and asthma as well as timing of introduction of solids. Consistent with others we also found no association with breast feeding, parental education or household income [16].

The introduction of solids or potentially allergenic foods has received increased attention recently. While earlier recommendations suggested delayed introduction or avoidance of dairy products, fish and nuts in high-risk infants [17, 18], two recent randomised controlled studies have provided convincing data that early introduction does not cause allergy and may even be protective [19, 20]. Our study was consistent with these latter studies, suggesting an increased risk of allergy with later commencement of solids (Table 5). By virtue of the design of our study, we cannot exclude that this association of delayed solid introduction and allergy could be an example of reverse causation, where families at higher risk introduced solid foods later.

The “Hygiene Hypothesis” [21] proposes that increased incidence in allergies are linked to reduced exposure to microorganisms. Exposure to other children [16, 22] as well as attending day-care [23], have been associated with decrease in allergic disorders. Our study considered these potential exposures, but did not find clear support for this hypothesis in univariate and multivariate modelling.

Parental-report of child allergies occurred at 4 times the level of ED presentation. This is likely explained by the chronic or recurrent nature of certain allergic disorders, such as eczema or atopic dermatitis, which may lead to parents to seek medical attention in the setting of a primary care physician (GP) or outpatient paediatrician, or possibly not seek care at all, rather than attend an ED.

Limitations

Not all parents consented to linkage with the PBS database and loss to follow-up occurred. As a result, the study may have been underpowered to find significant associations for known risk factors, although most point estimates findings were consistent with the existing literature. Also, due to the loss to follow-up, selection bias may have been introduced. Nevertheless, we have no reason to believe children with allergic disorders would have a different rate of loss to follow-up than others. We excluded asthma from our analysis, since our focus was on children between 0 and 5 years where diagnosis of asthma is challenging, due to their inability to provide reliable spirometry and the host of competing diagnoses such as bronchiolitis and reactive airway disease [24]. We acknowledge including asthma may have lead to different findings. ED diagnosis of allergy included patients with a diagnosis of ‘rash’, which accounted for half of the ED presentations in the first year of life for allergy and 40% of all presentations. We did not have approval to access patients’ individual medical record and are unable to comment on the exact etiology. A separate audit suggested more than half of these children have an allergic etiology. We conducted a sensitivity analysis by conducting logistic regression with and without patients with ‘rash’ and found a consistent result. As such we have decided to keep patients with rash in our descriptive analyses. We used ICD-10 coding for ED diagnosis which may have led to misclassification. For example, we noted very few cases of anaphylaxis, although our estimated incidence falls within previously reported ranges [25]. Furthermore, we cannot comment on the accuracy of parental report of allergy. Parental-report is considered a valid measurement for allergy, especially as a follow up measurement for a large cohort where patients are not routinely reviewed by a clinician [26].

Parental-report of allergy was unable to be further subdivided to examine specific drug or food associations. We had access to a detailed baseline database, but not all relevant possible predictors may have been included. Lastly, despite having access to multiple datasets, data entry and linkage may have been incomplete.

Conclusion

In this birth cohort from southeast Queensland, more than 10% of children in the frist 5 years of life had an allergic disorder reported, with 3.6% of the cohort presenting to an ED with an allergic disorder. Parental report of eczema and/or asthma as well as introduction of solids after 6 months of age were significantly associated with parental report of allergy. Spring birth and a mother with asthma were independent predictors for an ED presentation for allergy.

Abbreviations

ATS: 

Australian Triage Scale

CI: 

Confidence Interval

ED: 

Emergency Department

EDIS: 

Emergency Department Information System

EFHL: 

Environments for Healthy Living

GP: 

General Practitioner (Family Doctor)

ICD-10: 

International Classification of Disease – tenth edition

MBS: 

Medicare Benefit Scheme

NSW: 

New South Wales

PBS: 

Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme

PY: 

Person year

RR: 

Relative Risk

Declarations

Acknowledgements

The research reported in this publication is part of the Griffith Study of Population Health: Environments for Healthy Living (EFHL) (Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12610000931077). Core funding to support EFHL is provided by Griffith University. The EFHL project was conceived by Professor Rod McClure, Dr. Cate Cameron, Professor Judy Searle, and Professor Ronan Lyons. We are thankful for the contributions of the Project Manager, and current and past Database Managers. We gratefully acknowledge the administrative staff, research staff, and the hospital antenatal and birth suite midwives of the participating hospitals for their valuable contributions to the study, in addition to the expert advice provided by Research Investigators throughout the project. We also would like to acknowledge Rania Shibl (database manager), Dr. Syed Fasihullah, (Pediatrician, Gold Coast University Hospital), Dr. Stuart Young (Director, Emergency department, Logan Hospital), Dr. Rob Davies (Director, Emergency department, The Tweed Hospital) and Dr. Jae Thone (Gold Coast University Hospital) for the support of this project.

Funding

This research was funded by a Queensland Emergency Medicine Research Foundation grant. This not for profit foundation had no role in methodology, design, data collection and analysis nor in the interpretation of data.Dr. Cameron was supported by a Public Health Fellowship (ID 428254) from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available due to specific restrictions from the ethics committee(s), but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Authors’ contributions

GK: Design, ethics, funding, data interpretation, manuscript preparation, AS: Data analysis and manuscript preparation, JC: Design, ethics, funding, data interpretation, manuscript preparation, NG: Statistical analysis, manuscript review, CC: Design, funding, data interpretation, manuscript review, GM: Cohort data and data linkage manager, manuscript review, RS: Cohort project manager, design, funding, manuscript review, PS: Design, ethics, funding, data interpretation, manuscript preparation. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The Human Research Ethics Committees of the participating health service districts (HREC/06/QPAH/96,HREC/13/QPAH/8, HREC/06/GCH/52, NCAHS/HREC/358/N, Northern NSW LNR 057) and Griffith University approved this study (MED/16/06/HREC, MED/23/11/HREC), including linkage of data. For each participant written informed consent was obtained (from the parent or primary caregiver) for completion of a maternal baseline survey, the release of hospital perinatal data related to the birth of their child and linkage of their child’s inpatient state hospital records.

Competing interests

The authors declare they have no competing interests.

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Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Emergency Medicine, Gold Coast University Hospital, 1 Hospital Boulevard, Southport, QLD, 4215, Australia
(2)
School of Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
(3)
School of Medicine, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
(4)
Department of Emergency Medicine, Gold Coast Health, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
(5)
Menzies Health Institute, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
(6)
CSIRO Digitial Productivity/ Australian e-Health Research Centre, Royal Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
(7)
Jamieson Trauma Institute, Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, Herston, QLD, Australia
(8)
Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Meadowbrook, QLD, Australia
(9)
Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD, Australia

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