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Pollution and the immune response: atopic diseases ? are we too dirty or too clean?

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  • Pollution and the immune response: atopic diseases ? are we too dirty or too clean?

    Diaz-Sanchez, D. (2000), Pollution and the immune response: atopic diseases ? are we too dirty or too clean?. Immunology, 101: 11?18. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2567.2000.00108.x

    The effect of pollutants on the immune system has filled tomes and is almost always controversial whether the topic is disinfectants in drinking water or particulates and lung cancer. Even whether outdoor and indoor air quality is improving or declining has been a source of considerable investigation, consultation and often litigation. Few areas, however, yield so much uncertainty and debate as the role of airborne pollutants in atopy.

    Atopy is defined as an immunoglobulin E- (IgE) mediated allergic response to environmental antigens and can be manifested as rhinitis, asthma or atopic dermatitis. While there is some debate over whether there has been a real increase in atopy over the last decades, it is indisputable that there has been a dramatic change over the last 200 years. While isolated cases of anaphylaxis had been noted before, allergies were unheard of until the early 19th century. Only 54 years after the first description of hay fever in England in 1819, it was considered an epidemic and a clear association with urbanization had been reported. 1

    What aspect of urbanization is involved has been much debated. There has been much discussion amongst both experimental immunologists and epidemiologists over whether pollutants are responsible for increased allergic sensitization and/or severity.2,3 In the last few years new studies have supported an alternative explanation, namely the decline in infectious diseases in industrialized countries.4,5 Does this ?hygiene theory? toll the death knell for the ?pollution theory?? In this review I will argue that there is a compelling case to be made for both theories and that even this is not the entire picture...

    Author Information
    Division of Clinical Immunology/Allergy, Department of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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