Purpose of review: Asthma prevalence and severity are greater in women than in men, and mounting evidence suggests this is in part related to female steroid sex hormones. Of these, estrogen has been the subject of much study. This review highlights recent research exploring the effects of estrogen in allergic disease.
Recent findings: Estrogen receptors are found on numerous immunoregulatory cells and estrogen's actions skew immune responses toward allergy. It may act directly to create deleterious effects in asthma, or indirectly via modulation of various pathways including secretory leukoprotease inhibitor, transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 ion channel and nitric oxide production to exert effects on lung mechanics and inflammation. Not only do endogenous estrogens appear to play a role, but environmental estrogens have also been implicated. Environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) including bisphenol A and phthalates enhance allergic sensitization in animal models and may enhance development of atopic disorders like asthma in humans.
Summary: Estrogen's role in allergic disease remains complex. As allergic diseases continue to increase in prevalence and affect women disproportionately, gaining a fuller understanding of its effects in these disorders will be essential. Of particular importance may be effects of xenoestrogens on allergic disease.