Natural course of sensitization to food and inhalant allergens during the first 6 years of life

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Jun;103(6):1173-9. doi: 10.1016/s0091-6749(99)70195-8.


Background: Specific IgE antibody responses to alimentary and environmental allergens are one of the hallmarks of atopic diseases. The knowledge of the time course of allergic sensitization during early life may facilitate measures for preventive interventions.

Objective: In a prospective birth cohort study (the Multicenter Allergy Study [MAS]) we investigated annual incidence and prevalence rates of sensitization to food and inhalant allergens during the first 6 years of life.

Methods: For 216 children of a prospective birth cohort (MAS), a complete follow-up of specific IgE measurements to 9 food and inhalant allergens was available at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 years of age. On the basis of these measurements, sensitization rates were estimated for the reference population of 4082 children by weighted analysis.

Results: Annual incidence rates of sensitization to food allergens decreased from 10% at 1 year of age to 3% at the 6 years of age. Incidences of sensitization to inhalant allergen, however, increased with age (from 1.5% at 1 year to 8% at 6 years). Point prevalences of allergic sensitization to at least 1 of the 9 tested allergens increased from 11% at 1 year up to 30% at 6 years. This increase was due to markedly increasing sensitization rates to inhalant allergens (1.5% to at least 1 inhalant allergen at 1 year and 26% at 6 years of age), whereas sensitization rates to food allergens remained stable during the first 6 years of life (10%).

Conclusion: The earliest serologic marker for atopic immunoreactivity in infancy is the presence of IgE antibodies to egg, followed by milk. The development of sensitization to inhalant allergens occurs mostly after infancy. Beyond the third birthday annual incidence and prevalence increase markedly with age. Rates for outdoor allergens are twice those for indoor allergens.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / immunology*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis*
  • Allergens / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Family Health
  • Fetal Blood / immunology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunization
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies


  • Air Pollutants
  • Allergens
  • Immunoglobulin E