The aim of this review was to assess the evidence from recent prospective studies that long-term traffic pollution could contribute to the development of asthma-like symptoms and allergic sensitization in children. We have reviewed cohort studies published since 2002 and found in PubMed in Oct 2008. In all, 13 papers based on data from 9 cohorts have evaluated the relationship between traffic exposure and respiratory health. All surveys reported associations with at least some of the studied respiratory symptoms. The outcome varied, however, according to the age of the child. Nevertheless, the consistency in the results indicates that traffic exhaust contributes to the development of respiratory symptoms in healthy children. Potential effects of traffic exhaust on the development of allergic sensitization were only assessed in the four European birth cohorts. Long-term exposure to outdoor air pollutants had no association with sensitization in ten-year-old schoolchildren in Norway. In contrast, German, Dutch and Swedish preschool children had an increased risk of sensitization related to traffic exhaust despite fairly similar levels of outdoor air pollution as in Norway. Traffic-related effects on sensitization could be restricted to individuals with a specific genetic polymorphism. Assessment of gene-environment interactions on sensitization has so far only been carried out in a subgroup of the Swedish birth cohort. Further genetic association studies are required and may identify individuals vulnerable to adverse effects from traffic-related pollutants. Future studies should also evaluate effects of traffic exhaust on the development and long term outcome of different phenotypes of asthma and wheezing symptoms
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