The Role of Environmental Exposures in Atopic Dermatitis

Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2020 Oct 12;20(12):74. doi: 10.1007/s11882-020-00971-z.


Purpose of review: Although genetic factors clearly play a role in the development of atopic dermatitis (AD), the recent dramatic increase in the prevalence of AD in low- and middle-income countries is not consistent with only a role of genetic factors. These findings strongly suggest that environmental factors may play an important role in the pathogenesis of AD.

Recent findings: We reviewed the role of gene-environment studies; in utero exposures including tobacco smoke, alcohol, maternal stress, various digestive supplements, and gestational diabetes; early-life exposures including diet, gut microbiota, antibiotics, and breastfeeding; climate including temperature, ultraviolet radiation exposure, and air pollution; and household products, indoor allergens, water hardness, pH, and skin microbiota and their effects on AD. Environmental factors definitely play a role in the pathogenesis of AD. However, identifying definitive factors continues to be difficult in the setting of conflicting evidence and the complex interactions between genotypes and the environment resulting in a multitude of AD phenotypes. All of the different environmental interactions discussed highlight the importance of intervening on multiple levels in a patient's environment to improve or even prevent AD symptoms. Further, the importance of modifying environmental factors early on in a person's life is demonstrated. When possible, all of these environmental factors should be considered in treating a patient with AD and the appropriate modifications should be made at population and individual levels.

Keywords: Air pollution; Alcohol; Antibiotics; Atopic dermatitis; Breastfeeding; Cesarean section; Climate; Environment; Fatty acids; Gene-environment interactions; Gestational diabetes; Gut microbiota; Household products; Hygiene hypothesis; Indoor allergens; Maternal stress; Postbiotics; Prebiotics; Prenatal; Probiotics; Skin microbiota; Temperature; Tobacco smoke; Ultraviolet radiation; Water hardness; pH.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / pathology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult