OBJECTIVE: Airflow obstruction is relatively uncommon in young adults, and may indicate potential for the development of progressive disease. The objective of the present study was to enumerate and characterize airflow obstruction in a random sample of Canadians aged 20 to 44 years.
SETTING: The sample (n=2962) was drawn from six Canadian sites.
DESIGN: A prevalence study using the European Community Respiratory Health Survey protocol was conducted. Airflow obstruction was assessed by spirometry. Bronchial responsiveness, skin reactivity to allergens and total serum immunoglobulin E were also measured. Logistic regression was used for analysis.
RESULTS: Airflow obstruction was observed in 6.4% of the sample, not associated with sex or age. The risk of airflow obstruction increased in patients who had smoked and in patients who had lung trouble during childhood. Adjusted for smoking, the risk of airflow obstruction was elevated for subjects with past and current asthma, skin reactivity to allergens, elevated levels of total immunoglobulin E and bronchial hyper-responsiveness. Of the subjects with airflow obstruction, 21% were smokers with a history of asthma, 50% were smokers without asthma, 12% were nonsmokers with asthma and 17% were nonsmokers with no history of asthma. Bronchial hyper-responsiveness increased the prevalence of airflow obstruction in each of these groups.
CONCLUSION: Smoking and asthma, jointly and individually, are major determinants of obstructive disorders in young adults. Bronchial hyper-responsiveness contributes to obstruction in both groups.