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Allergy. 1998;53(48 Suppl):115-20.

Importance of indoor allergens in the induction of allergy and elicitation of allergic disease.

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  • 1North West Lung Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, UK.


During the last few decades, many countries have experienced an increase in the prevalence and severity of asthma. Over the same period, the population in the developed world has retreated indoors, and homes have become better insulated and more energy efficient, resulting in a warm and humid environment with low ventilation rates, ideally suited to house-dust-mite population growth throughout the year. Increasing exposure and increasing sensitivity to indoor allergens represent a progressively higher risk factor for the development of asthma. The development of sensitivity to indoor allergens and the symptoms and severity of asthma in later childhood are directly related to the exposure to allergens in infancy. It was relatively straightforward to demonstrate a quantitative linear dose-response relationship between exposure to house-dust-mite allergens and subsequent sensitization. However, showing the same for exposure and asthma severity has been more difficult, as the relationship between exposure and asthma symptoms in already sensitized individuals is much more complex than in the case of exposure and sensitization. Nevertheless, sensitized individuals are likely to have more severe asthma if exposed to high allergen levels than if their level of exposure is low. Sensitization to house-dust mites is a major independent risk factor for asthma in all areas where climate is conducive to mite population growth. The relevance of allergens other that mite is not consistent between different areas, and depends on the climate, habits, and socio-economic features of the local community. It would appear that presence of mite allergens in homes "overshadows" other allergens (e.g., cat, dog, or cockroach) as a risk factor for sensitization and subsequent development of allergic disease. It is possible that this is the consequence of the difference in inherent potency between allergen sources, and the question of why mite allergens are so potent in inducing sensitization and atopic disease remains to be answered.

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