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Sex in Respiratory and Skin Allergies

Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology
Erminia Ridolo, Cristoforo Incorvaia, Irene Martignago, Marco Caminati, Giorgio Walter Canonica, Gianenrico Senna


A bulk of literature demonstrated that respiratory allergy, and especially asthma, is prevalent in males during childhood, while it becomes more frequent in females from adolescence, i.e., after menarche, to adulthood. The mechanisms underlying the difference between females and males are the effects on the immune response of female hormones and in particular the modulation of inflammatory response by estrogens, as well as the result of the activity of various cells, such as dendritic cells, innate lymphoid cells, Th1, Th2, T regulatory (Treg) and B regulatory (Bregs) cells, and a number of proteins and cytokines, which include interleukin (IL)-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13. As far as sexual dimorphism is concerned, a gender difference in the expression profiles of histamine receptors and of mast cells was demonstrated in experimental studies. A critical phase of hormone production is the menstrual cycle, which often is associated with asthma deterioration, as assessed by worsening of clinical symptoms and increase of bronchial hyperresponsiveness. In asthmatic woman, there is a high risk to develop more severe asthma during menstruation. The higher prevalence of asthma in females is confirmed also in the post-menopause age, but the underlying mechanisms are not yet understood. In pregnancy, asthma may worsen but may also improve or remain unchanged, with no significant difference in frequency of these three outcomes. For allergic rhinitis, the available studies indicate, likewise asthma, a male predominance in prevalence in childhood that shifts to a female predominance in adolescence and adulthood, but further investigation is needed.

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