Background Early life events seem to have a major impact on the development of tolerance or sensitization.
Objective The aim of the study was to compare the prevalence of sensitization and atopic dermatitis (AD) during the first 2 years of life in Estonia and in Sweden.
Methods Two groups comprising 110 Estonian and 123 Swedish infants were followed from birth up to 2 years of age. Data about symptoms of allergy, infections and use of antibiotics were obtained by questionnaires. Clinical examinations, skin prick tests (SPTs) with food and inhalant allergens, and blood sampling for IgE analyses were carried out at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months.
Results The cumulative incidence of AD and positive SPTs were lower in the Estonian than the Swedish infants (14% vs. 24%; P=0.06 and 13% vs. 24%; P=0.03), while circulating IgE antibodies were more common (39% vs. 27%; P=0.06) and often present without any clinical significance in Estonian children. Estonian infants had respiratory illnesses more often and they had received antibiotics more frequently. Use of antibiotics increased the risk for positive SPT in the Estonian (odds ratio=1.7, 95% confidence interval=1.1−2.5), but not in the Swedish infants. This may be explained by the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics in Estonia, while in Sweden mostly penicillin was prescribed.
Conclusions The prevalence of AD and positive SPTs was lower in the Estonian than the Swedish infants, while circulating IgE antibodies were more common and often present without any clinical significance. These differences cannot simply be explained by infections, or use of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the two countries, although more the natural lifestyle in Estonia may be contributing factor.