Background: The study aimed to assess the effect of pre- and postnatal tobacco smoke exposure on specific sensitization to food allergens and inhalant allergens during the first 3 years of life.
Methods: A total of 342 children of a prospective and observational birth cohort study on atopy (MAS) were included on the basis of a complete follow-up of specific IgE measurements at the ages of 1, 2, and 3 years with available questionnaire information about the parental smoking habit at birth, 18 months, and 3 years of age. Study children were grouped into four exposure categories representing in utero and postnatal environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, and according to the number of cigarettes smoked by the parents. The effect on the development of allergic sensitization to food, outdoor, and indoor allergens by 3 years of age was determined by multiple logistic regression analyses.
Results: At the age of 3, children who were pre- and postnatally exposed to tobacco smoke had a significantly higher risk of sensitization to food allergens (odds ratio: 2.3, 95% C.I.: 1.1-4.6) than unexposed children. Children who were only postnatally exposed by a smoking mother also had a 2.2 times higher risk (95% C.I.: 0.9-5.9) of sensitization than unexposed children. These two categories (pre- and/or postnatal exposure) contribute to the significant overall effect of the tobacco smoke exposure (P< or =0.02). No significant association between tobacco smoke exposure and specific sensitization to inhalant allergens was observed. The determining risk factors for this type of sensitization were atopic family history and mite- and cat-allergen exposure levels.
Conclusions: During the first 3 years of life, both prenatal and postnatal tobacco smoke exposure has an adjuvant effect on allergic sensitization which seems to be restricted to allergens to which children are mainly exposed, in combination with the peak of the ETS exposure around the first birthday.