Background Exposure to endotoxin in childhood is currently discussed to protect from the development of allergic diseases.
Objective To study the effect of early endotoxin exposure on incidence of atopic sensitization, atopic dermatitis and wheezing until the age of 2 years in infants with different risk status in terms of parental atopy.
Methods Data of 1942 infants of an ongoing birth cohort study were analysed by logistic regression. Endotoxin was measured in settled dust of the mothers' mattresses at infants' age of 3 months. Data on allergic symptoms and physicians' diagnoses were gathered by questionnaire. Sensitization to common food and inhalant allergens was assessed by specific serum IgE.
Results High endotoxin levels increased the risk of repeated wheeze [adjusted odds ratio (OR) for 4th exposure quartile (Q4) 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.08–2.14], but were associated with neither sensitization to food allergens nor atopic dermatitis. Stratification by parental atopy showed that there was an association of endotoxin exposure with incidence of repeated wheeze as well as with sensitization to inhalant allergens (P for trend = 0.008 and 0.044, respectively) only in infants with parental atopy, with the highest risk in the 4th exposure quartile (repeated wheeze: ORQ4 1.77, 95% CI 1.14–2.73; sensitization to inhalant allergens: ORQ4 1.69, 95% CI 0.70–4.11).
Conclusion Early endotoxin exposure in terms of mattress dust endotoxin levels seemed to increase the risk of atopic reactions to inhalant allergens at the age of 2 years, especially in infants at risk due to parental atopy. Our data disagree with an early protective effect of endotoxin on atopy development until the age of 2 years.