Atopic dermatitis and the hygiene hypothesis revisited

Curr Probl Dermatol. 2011;41:1-34. doi: 10.1159/000323290. Epub 2011 May 12.


Background: We published a systematic review on atopic dermatitis (AD) and the hygiene hypothesis in 2005. Since then, the body of literature has grown significantly.

Objectives: We therefore repeated our systematic review to examine the evidence from population-based studies for an association between AD risk and specific infections, childhood immunizations, the use of antibiotics and environmental exposures that lead to a change in microbial burden.

Methods: Medline was searched from 1966 until June 2010 to identify relevant studies.

Results: We found an additional 49 papers suitable for inclusion. There is evidence to support an inverse relationship between AD and endotoxin, early day care, farm animal and dog exposure in early life. Cat exposure in the presence of skin barrier impairment is positively associated with AD. Helminth infection at least partially protects against AD. This is not the case for viral and bacterial infections, but consumption of unpasteurized farm milk seems protective. Routine childhood vaccinations have no effect on AD risk. The positive association between viral infections and AD found in some studies appears confounded by antibiotic prescription, which has been consistently associated with an increase in AD risk.

Conclusions: There is convincing evidence for an inverse relationship between helminth infections and AD but no other pathogens. The protective effect seen with early day care, endotoxin, unpasteurized farm milk and animal exposure is likely to be due to a general increase in exposure to non-pathogenic microbes. This would also explain the risk increase associated with the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Future studies should assess skin barrier gene mutation carriage and phenotypic skin barrier impairment, as gene-environment interactions are likely to impact on AD risk.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Cats
  • Child
  • Child Day Care Centers
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / microbiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / prevention & control
  • Dogs
  • Endotoxins / administration & dosage
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infections / microbiology
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pets
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / microbiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Vaccines / adverse effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Endotoxins
  • Vaccines