The term “atopic march” has been used to imply a natural progression of a cascade of symptoms from eczema to asthma and rhinitis through childhood. We hypothesize that this expression does not adequately describe the natural history of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis during childhood. We propose that this paradigm arose from cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal studies, and may reflect a population pattern that may not predominate at the individual level.Methods and Findings
Data from 9,801 children in two population-based birth cohorts were used to determine individual profiles of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis and whether the manifestations of these symptoms followed an atopic march pattern. Children were assessed at ages 1, 3, 5, 8, and 11 y. We used Bayesian machine learning methods to identify distinct latent classes based on individual profiles of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis. This approach allowed us to identify groups of children with similar patterns of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis over time.
Using a latent disease profile model, the data were best described by eight latent classes: no disease (51.3%), atopic march (3.1%), persistent eczema and wheeze (2.7%), persistent eczema with later-onset rhinitis (4.7%), persistent wheeze with later-onset rhinitis (5.7%), transient wheeze (7.7%), eczema only (15.3%), and rhinitis only (9.6%). When latent variable modelling was carried out separately for the two cohorts, similar results were obtained. Highly concordant patterns of sensitisation were associated with different profiles of eczema, rhinitis, and wheeze. The main limitation of this study was the difference in wording of the questions used to ascertain the presence of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis in the two cohorts.Conclusions
The developmental profiles of eczema, wheeze, and rhinitis are heterogeneous; only a small proportion of children (∼7% of those with symptoms) follow trajectory profiles resembling the atopic march.