BACKGROUND--Some doubts exist as to whether the increase in the prevalence of asthma is real or an artefact. The 10 year trend of asthma up to 1993 in England and Scotland was therefore assessed. METHODS--Information on asthma and bronchitis attacks, occasional wheeze, and persistent wheeze in the last 12 months, was obtained using a self administered questionnaire completed by the parents. Exactly the same questions were asked in 14 study areas in Scotland and 22 study areas in England in 1982 or 1983 and in 1992 or 1993 in 5-11 year old children. RESULTS--The numbers of children with data for all respiratory illness were 5556 (85.2%) and 5801 (87.1%) in England and 3748 (90.4%) and 3738 (90.4%) in Scotland in 1982 and 1992, respectively. There was a significant increase in asthma attacks (approximately three times more in 1992 than in 1982) and occasional wheeze (30-60% more in 1992 than in 1982) in both sexes in England and Scotland. Persistent wheeze also increased in both countries, but the increase was significant only in England (30-40% more in 1992 than in 1982). CONCLUSIONS--The study coincides with others that suggest that the increased prevalence of asthma may be due, in part, to changes in diagnostic behaviour. However, the continuing increase of persistent wheeze in the total sample suggests that part of the increase is real. There was no difference in the increase of persistent wheeze between Scotland and England, but the trend was only significant in England.
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