Atopy and asthma result from the effects of environmental factors on genetically susceptible persons, and different prevalence rates have been documented worldwide. In developed and industrialized countries a higher prevalence of atopy and asthma is observed as compared with undeveloped and less affluent countries. Migration involves exposure to a new set of pollutants and allergens. In addition, it involves several socioeconomic and cultural issues such as housing conditions, diet and accessibility to medical services, all of which are likely to affect migrants' health. Migration studies provide information on the role of environmental factors in the development of atopy and asthma. Immigration to allergy-prevalent countries causes more allergies and asthma in immigrants as compared to the prevalence of atopy in their countries of origin. The increase in allergy and asthma is usually not related to ethnicity, but in certain populations may play an important role. Studies on migrants support the notion that lifestyle and environmental factors in western industrialized countries facilitate atopy and asthma. The effect is time-dependent. Acquiring allergy is influenced by the age at the time of immigration. Migrants, in general, are more prone to the development of allergies than the local population. Low hygiene prior to immigration does not seem to protect against the development of atopy or asthma. Vaccinations do not affect the development of atopy or asthma in the general population and in migrants. Migrants should be aware of the potential of developing allergies and/or asthma. Strategies for primary prevention in high-risk atopic individuals and secondary prevention guidelines should be developed both for populations in developing countries as well as for immigrants from such countries to atopy-prevalent developed countries.
Copyright (c) 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel.