Epidemiology of allergic diseases

T. Schäfer, J. Ring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


The escalation of allergic diseases (hay fever, asthma, atopic eczema) over recent decades has been linked to an increase in environmental pollutants. The prevalence of hay fever is associated with genetic predisposition, and some reports show an association with urban areas, socioeconomic status, and combined high allergen and automobile exhaust exposure. In asthma, there is also some evidence for geographical variations in prevalence; exercise challenge tests prove positive more often in urban areas than in rural areas. Although genetic predisposition is the strongest single risk factor for atopic eczema, air pollutants may aggravate the condition by acting as unspecific irritants and immunomodulators, leading to increased immunoglobulin E expression. In a study of 678 pre-school children, the influence of maternal smoking habits on individual measures of atopy revealed a positive association between smoking during pregnancy/lactation, and a positive history of atopic eczema. An East-West German comparative study examining different types and levels of air pollution, i.e. sulphurous (industrial; East) and oxidising (urban; West), showed that the prevalence of atopic eczema was greatest in East Germany. When various direct and indirect parameters of air pollution exposure were measured, the greatest association with atopic eczema was found with NOx exposure (indoor use of gas without a cooker hood), and close proximity to roads with heavy traffic. The increased prevalence of atopic eczema cannot be explained by changes in study methodology over time, or conventional risk factors alone; environmental risk factors may be an important contributing factor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-22
Number of pages9
JournalAllergy: European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue numberSUPPL. 38
StatePublished - 1997


  • Asthma
  • Atopic eczema
  • Epidemiology
  • Hay fever
  • Pollution


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