The prevalence of asthma has increased rapidly since the early 1970s, and only changes in exposure to environmental factors; which go together with changes in lifestyle, are likely to explain such a rapid increase. Exposure to allergens is a risk factor for allergic sensitization, and allergic sensitization is a risk factor for allergic asthma. However, apart from indoor mold exposure as a risk factor for childhood asthma, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the associations between allergen exposure and asthma development are causal. A new challenge for research is to analyze the huge amount of data derived from the metagenomic characterization of the environmental and human microbiome, to understand the role of interactions between viruses, bacteria and allergens in the development of asthma. It is recognized that prenatal and postnatal exposure to air pollution and maternal smoking increase the risk of developing asthma in children. In adults, the data are scarce and the results remain controversial as regards these exposures and asthma incidence. Further research is needed to appraise the effect of exposure to phenols, phthalates and perfluorinated compounds, which are widespread in the environment and may be associated with asthma, especially in children. Frequent use of chemicals for home cleaning especially in the form of sprays - which is a common practice at the population level - is a risk factor for the development of adult asthma. The domestic use of cleaning products might also be a risk factor for asthma in children exposed at home. The chemicals involved in these relationships are still to be identified. Occupational asthma is a major phenotype of adult asthma. A significant part of these asthma cases might relate to occupational exposure to cleaning products. While there is evidence of associations between diet during pregnancy or during childhood and the risk of developing asthma in children, the data in adults are insufficient. Beyond genetic factors, body composition is influenced by dietary choices and physical activity. Further research is needed to clarify the complex interplay between these nutritional factors and asthma development. The new challenge for research is to decipher the role of all the environmental factors to which the individual is exposed since conception ("exposome") in the development of asthma, using a holistic approach.
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