Hygiene Hypothesis in Asthma Development: Is Hygiene to Blame?

Arch Med Res. 2017 Nov;48(8):717-726. doi: 10.1016/j.arcmed.2017.11.009. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Industrialized countries have registered epidemic rates on allergic diseases, such as hay fever, asthma, eczema, and food allergies. The Hygiene Hypothesis was born from work made by Dr. David Strachan, who observed that younger siblings were less susceptible to eczema and asthma, and proposed that this was a result of increased transmission of infectious agents via unhygienic practices within a household. This initial hypothesis was then reframed as the old friends/microbiota hypothesis, implicating non-pathogenic commensal microorganisms as the source of immunomodulatory signals necessary to prevent immune-mediated chronic disorders. Although the hygiene hypothesis is supported by epidemiological research of allergic diseases in certain industrialized settings, it often fails to explain the incidence of asthma in less affluent regions of the world. In this review, we summarize up-to-date information on genetic and environmental factors associated with asthma in different human populations, and present evidence that calls for caution when associating hygiene with the pathogenesis of asthma and other allergic conditions.

Keywords: Asthma; Atopy; Hygiene/old friends hypothesis; Microbiome; Worldwide asthma incidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / genetics
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / microbiology*
  • Developed Countries
  • Humans
  • Hygiene Hypothesis*
  • Microbiota
  • Risk Factors