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Allergen avoidance and prevention of atopy

Arshad, S Hasan

Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology: April 2004 - Volume 4 - Issue 2 - p 119-123
Pediatric asthma and development of atopy

Purpose of review Recent increases in the prevalence of atopic disease argue strongly that environmental factors operating primarily in early life play a significant role. Exposure to food and inhalant allergens early in life may constitute a risk factor amenable to manipulation.

Recent findings Recent observational and interventional studies have produced conflicting data regarding the effectiveness of allergen avoidance in primary and secondary prevention of atopic diseases.

Summary Exclusive breast feeding for 4-6 months may protect against the development of allergic diseases in early childhood and remains good advice. Convincing proof for the preventive effects of the delayed introduction of solid foods and hydrolyzed formula in formula-fed infants is lacking. There is some evidence to support a preventive effect of house dust mite allergen avoidance before sensitization occurs. The effect of exposure to animal allergen is uncertain, with some studies showing an increase in sensitization while others suggest a protective effect. Therefore, no evidence-based advice can be given at this stage regarding allergen avoidance measures to be adopted by families with infants at high risk of atopy, except perhaps to breast feed exclusively for at least 4 months. Data regarding the secondary prevention of allergic disease by allergen avoidance were more secure until the publication this year of two randomized controlled trials which suggest that mattress impermeable covers, the main dust mite allergen avoidance measure, may not work. Allergen avoidance, however, should remain an essential part of the management of allergic diseases, even if the benefit of mattress covers is in doubt.

The David Hide Asthma & Allergy Research Centre, St Mary's Hospital, Newport, Isle of Wight, UK

Correspondence to Dr S. Hasan Arshad, The David Hide Asthma & Allergy Research Centre, St Mary's Hospital, Newport PO30 5TG, Isle of Wight, UK Tel: +44 1983 534373; fax: +44 1983 822928; e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.