Prevalences of positive skin test responses to 10 common allergens in the US population: results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Author(s): Arbes SJ Jr, Gergen PJ, Elliott L, Zeldin DC


Background:Allergy skin tests were administered in the second and third National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES II and III) conducted in the United States from 1976 through 1980 and 1988 through 1994, respectively.

Objectives:This study estimated positive skin test response rates in NHANES III and identified predictors of one or more positive test responses. Comparisons with NHANES II were also made.

Methods:In NHANES III, 10 allergens and 2 controls were tested in all subjects aged 6 to 19 years and a random half-sample of subjects aged 20 to 59 years. A wheal-based definition of a positive test response was used.

Results:In NHANES III, 54.3% of the population had positive test responses to 1 or more allergens. Prevalences were 27.5% for dust mite, 26.9% for perennial rye, 26.2% for short ragweed, 26.1% for German cockroach, 18.1% for Bermuda grass, 17.0% for cat, 15.2% for Russian thistle, 13.2% for white oak, 12.9% for Alternaria alternata, and 8.6% for peanut. Among those with positive test responses, the median number of positive responses was 3.0. Adjusted odds of a positive test response were higher for the following variables: age of 20 to 29 years, male sex, minority race, western region, old homes, and lower serum cotinine levels. For the 6 allergens common to NHANES II and III, prevalences were 2.1 to 5.5 times higher in NHANES III.

Conclusions:The majority of the US population represented in NHANES III was sensitized to 1 or more allergens. Whether the higher prevalences observed in NHANES III reflect true changes in prevalence or methodological differences between the surveys cannot be determined with certainty.

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