Introduction: After having increased for some time, the prevalence of allergic diseases may have reached a plateau. During this increase, considerable concomitant changes in air pollution have occurred. Photo-oxidant air pollution, related to traffic, has become preponderant. The implication of air pollution in the epidemic of allergies is still debated.
Background: Experimental studies have suggested that the effect of air pollutants, including particulates and ozone, on the worsening and even the induction of allergies is biologically plausible. In addition, epidemiological studies have shown a short term impact of the peaks of air pollution on exacerbations of asthma. On the other hand, the results of epidemiological studies dealing with the long-term effects of chronic exposure to air pollution on the prevalence of allergies are less consistent.
Viewpoints: The implementation of new-born cohorts, the use of dispersion models to improve exposure assessment and the study of gene-environment correlations, should increase our knowledge of the role of traffic-related air pollutants in the development of allergies and identify subjects more sensitive to their effects.
Conclusions: Some traffic-related air pollutants may have played a more important role in the increase in the prevalence of allergies than was assumed from the first epidemiological studies.