Background: Patterns of wheezing during early childhood may indicate differences in aetiology and prognosis of respiratory illnesses. Improved characterisation of wheezing phenotypes could lead to the identification of environmental influences on the development of asthma and airway diseases in predisposed individuals.
Methods: Data collected on wheezing at seven time points from birth to 7 years from 6265 children in a longitudinal birth cohort (the ALSPAC study) were analysed. Latent class analysis was used to assign phenotypes based on patterns of wheezing. Measures of atopy, airway function (forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), mid forced expiratory flow (FEF25-75)) and bronchial responsiveness were made at 7–9 years of age.
Results: Six phenotypes were identified. The strongest associations with atopy and airway responsiveness were found for intermediate onset (18 months) wheezing (OR for atopy 8.36, 95% CI 5.2 to 13.4; mean difference in dose response to methacholine 1.76, 95% CI 1.41 to 2.12 %FEV1 per μmol, compared with infrequent/never wheeze phenotype). Late onset wheezing (after 42 months) was also associated with atopy (OR 6.6, 95% CI 4.7 to 9.4) and airway responsiveness (mean difference 1.61, 95% CI 1.37 to 1.85 %FEV1 per μmol). Transient and prolonged early wheeze were not associated with atopy but were weakly associated with increased airway responsiveness and persistent wheeze had intermediate associations with these outcomes.
Conclusions: The wheezing phenotypes most strongly associated with atopy and airway responsiveness were characterised by onset after age 18 months. This has potential implications for the timing of environmental influences on the initiation of atopic wheezing in early childhood.
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Funding: This research was specifically funded by a grant from Asthma UK to establish a research network of UK asthma birth cohorts (the STELAR network). The skin prick tests were funded by a grant from the British Lung Foundation and the measurements of lung function and airway responsiveness were supported by a grant from the UK Medical Research Council. SOS is an Asthma UK Senior Research Fellow. The UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Ethics approval for all aspects of data collection was obtained from the ALSPAC Law and Ethics Committee (IRB 00003312).
This publication is the work of the authors and JH and JACS will serve as guarantors for the contents of the paper.
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