Background: The reported impact of day-care attendance on respiratory and atopic symptoms has varied between studies from different countries. Regarding to the 'hygiene-hypothesis', day-care attendance may lead to less sensitization later in life, but the question still is whether day-care attendance and subsequent exposure to more frequent early infections is a risk or a protection against future allergic disease or asthma (atopic and nonatopic).
Methods: A cross-sectional postal questionnaire was replied by parents of 10,851 children, aged 1-6 years, in the year 2000 in a Swedish region (DBH-phase 1). The questionnaire focused on respiratory and atopic symptoms, the home environment and information on day care of the children.
Results: Children in day care were reported to have more symptoms than children in home care: adjusted odds ratio (AOR) for wheezing last 12 months, AOR 1.33 (CI 95%: 1.12-1.58), cough at night apart from colds last 12 months AOR 1.56 (CI: 1.17-2.07), doctor diagnosed asthma AOR 1.23 (CI: 0.88-1.71), rhinitis last 12 months AOR 1.15 (CI: 0.92-1.44), doctor diagnosed hay fever AOR 1.75 (CI: 0.94-3.23), eczema last 12 months, AOR 1.49 (CI: 1.24-1.79), allergic reactions to foods, AOR 1.27 (CI: 1.07-1.52), >6 colds last 12 months of 2.57 (CI: 2.12-3.12) and ear infection ever AOR 2.14 (CI: 1.87-2.45). The increased risks were mainly seen and reached significance in the youngest group of children, aged 1-4 years. Adjusting and stratification for the number of airway infections last year did not change the risk associated with day-care attendance for allergic diseases.
Conclusions: Attending day care was associated with an increased risk of symptoms related to airways infections as well with eczema and allergic reactions to food. No sign of protection from day-care attendance for allergic diseases was found up to 6 years of age. Multiple airway infections and day-care attendance were found to be independently associated with asthma and allergic symptoms.