Background: Higher prevalences of allergic diseases and IgE antibodies to inhalant allergens have been reported for persons living in urban areas than for persons living in rural areas.
Methods: Associations between cumulative incidences of allergic diseases in 1878 children aged 13-14 years and their place of residence (urban, semiurban, or rural) from birth were assessed by questionnaire (ISAAC), in order to find out whether there is a period of increased sensitivity to external influences during the first few years of life. Family history and exposure to pets, tobacco smoke, and damp were considered in multiple regression.
Results: There was a significantly higher prevalence of allergic diseases with urban residence than with rural residence during the first 2 years of life (e.g., for bronchial asthma, relative risk (RR) for the first year 2.1, 95% CI 1.2-3.7). An increased risk was still found after multiple regression (RR=1.7). Semiurban residence was associated with an intermediate cumulative incidence of allergic diseases. Maternal smoking during pregnancy was associated with asthma (RR=1.4, 95% CI 1.0-2.0).
Conclusions: The findings support a period of increased susceptibility during the first years of life. Whether rural lifestyle protects against allergy or whether urban pollutants contribute to allergy has to be elucidated [corrected].