The impact of modernization on allergy and asthma development
In recent years, an increase of allergies and asthma has been observed throughout the world, more so in Western countries than in less developed ones. Although genetics may play a role in this increase, there are many other factors that may have contributed to the upsurge.
The purpose of the present report was to review the many factors associated with modernization and lifestyle that may have contributed to the allergy and/or asthma epidemic, with a particular focus on those aspects that have particular relevance for the allergist/immunologist.
The marked rise in allergy and asthma has been significantly seen in more-developed countries, greater in urban than in rural areas, more pronounced in affluent than in poorer societies, and in individuals who have migrated from developing countries to industrialized countries. A widely accepted explanation for this rise is the “hygiene hypothesis,” which postulates a critical dependence on microbial infection for maintenance of a healthy balanced immune system and that extremely clean external environments, often found in the developed world, can derail equilibrated immune development. With the control of infectious diseases, the immune system shifts from a balanced equilibrated immunologic structure to a more Th2 driven proinflammatory state often associated with IgE and eosinophil-related disorders.
Modernization has been associated with increased development of allergies and asthma through a cleaner environment and more exposure to allergens and to multiple other contributory factors. The marked reduction in infectious diseases in recent decades permitted the immune system to switch from fighting infectious disease agents and parasites to reacting adversely (hypersensitivity) to benign environmental agents (allergens) and even to self-antigens (autoimmunity).
Keywords: The ‘allergy epidemic’; allergy development; allergy prevalence; asthma development; asthma prevalence; environmental allergens; epigenetics; genetics; industrialization; modernization; socioeconomic factors; the hygiene hypothesis
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: From the Allergy and Immunology Section, Department of Pediatrics, and
Publication date: January 1, 2023
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