Background: Asthma places huge demands on health-care services, and its prevalence is increasing. Reduction of exposure to environmental allergens could offer a realistic chance for primary prevention. Our aim was to ascertain whether or not living in a low-allergen environment reduces the risk of asthma and atopic diseases in infants.
Methods: We assigned infants to four risk groups according to parental atopic status. We enrolled 291 high-risk couples (both parents atopic, no pets) into a prospective, prenatally randomised, cohort study, and allocated them to environmental manipulation, in which measures to reduce prenatal and postnatal allergen exposure were undertaken (active HRA) (n=145) or no intervention (control HRC) (n=146). Two further prospective groups were studied: 161 high-risk infants with pets in the home (HRP group) and 168 low-risk infants, whose parents were both non-atopic (LR group). The main outcome measures were signs and symptoms of atopic disease at 1 year of age.
Findings: 103 families dropped out or were lost to follow up. At age 1 year we followed-up 133 HRA, 118 HRC, 140 HRP, and 126 LR infants. Children in the HRA group were less likely to have respiratory symptoms during the first year of life than those in the HRC group. The most pronounced differences were in the relative risks for severe wheeze with shortness of breath (relative risk 0.44 [95% CI 0.20-1.00]), prescribed medication for the treatment of wheezy attacks (0.58 [0.36-0.95]), and wheezing after vigorous playing, crying, or exertion (0.18 [0.04-0.79]). Probability of respiratory symptoms in HRC and HRP infants was similar, whereas it was much lower in the LR than in the HRC group. Cat ownership was significantly associated with sensitisation to cats (24.6 [3.04-199.05]; p=0.003).
Interpretation: Environmental manipulation reduces some respiratory symptoms in the first year of life in high-risk infants. Further follow up is needed, however, to ascertain whether living in a low-allergen environment reduces allergy and asthma in later life.