The Relevance of Allergen Exposure to the
Development of Asthma in Childhood

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   J Allergy Clin Immunol 2000 Feb;   105(2 Pt 2):   S5038

Platts-Mills TA, Rakes G, Heymann PW

Asthma and Allergic Diseases Center,
University of Virginia 22908, USA

Sensitization to 1 or more of the common indoor allergens has been consistently associated with asthma among children and young adults (odds ratios for asthma, 3-18). For dust mite and cockroach allergens, there is a dose response relationship between domestic exposure and sensitization. Given that allergen provocation can induce many of the features of asthma, the findings strongly suggest that there is a causal relationship between allergen exposure in the home and asthma. However, it remains unclear at what time the critical exposure occurs (ie, in infancy or later) and what role allergen exposure has played in the increasing prevalence and severity of asthma. Objective evidence of an immune response to allergens is generally not present until after 2 years of age. Viral infections play several different roles in asthma in childhood. In infancy, respiratory syncytial virus infection can induce bronchiolitis and set up recurrent wheezing over the next few years. However, the risk factors for this are maternal smoking and small lungs at birth, rather than allergy. By contrast, the role of rhinovirus in precipitating attacks in children and young adults is strongly associated with allergy. Thus the likely scenario is that allergen exposure over the first few years of life induces sensitization (ie, T(H2) cells and IgE antibodies). Continuing exposure can maintain inflammation in the nose and lungs. However, many other factors contribute to wheezing such that there is no simple relationship between allergen exposure and asthma. Nonetheless, it is clear that the changes that have increased asthma have acted on allergic children.

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