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Our aim was to examine the relative importance of family size on sensitization to two different allergens: ryegrass and house dust mite (HDM), using a mutually exclusive classification for allergen-specific sensitization. An 8-year follow-up birth cohort study of children born between 1988-89 was conducted. The follow-up sample consisted of 498 children residing in Northern Tasmania in 1997 (84% of eligible). Outcome measures included skin prick test (SPT) reaction to nine aeroallergens and parental questionnaire. Family size was defined as sibling number in 1997. Children with a positive SPT to either Der p or Der f house dust mite but not ryegrass were classified as HDM-exclusive (n = 84). Children with a positive SPT to ryegrass but not HDM were classified as ryegrass-exclusive (n = 43). Family size was associated with reduced ryegrass-exclusive sensitization [AOR 0.57 (0.39, 0.84) per increase in sibling number] but not HDM-exclusive sensitization [AOR 0.97 (0.77,1.23)]. The difference in the family size effect on these sensitization outcomes was significant (p = 0.02). Similarly, family size tended to be associated with reduced asthma among ryegrass-exclusive sensitized children [AOR 0.45 (0.18,1.12)] but not HDM-exclusive sensitized children [(AOR 1.46(0.80-2.65)]. Large family size was strongly associated with reduced sensitization for ryegrass allergens but not HDM allergens using mutually exclusive sensitization categories. If this difference is confirmed in other studies, the contrasting effect of family size may reflect differences between these allergens with regard to level or timing of early life exposure, differences in allergen -specific potentiation for sensitization or unidentified confounding. The use of mutually exclusive categories for allergen sensitization will assist future work on child atopic disease.


Journal article


Pediatr Allergy Immunol

Publication Date





81 - 90


Allergens, Child, Cohort Studies, Family Characteristics, Follow-Up Studies, Humans, Hypersensitivity, Lolium, Pyroglyphidae, Skin Tests