Background: Around 30-40% of the world's population will experience allergy, the most common and earliest-onset noncommunicable disease. With a steady rise in the incidence of allergic disease over recent decades, up to 18% of children will suffer a respiratory, food or skin allergy before their 18th birthday. There is compelling evidence that the risk of developing allergy is influenced by early life events and particularly in utero exposures. Methods: A comprehensive literature review was undertaken which outlines prenatal risk factors and potential mechanisms underlying the development of allergy in childhood. Results: Exposures including maternal cigarette smoking, preterm birth and Caesarean delivery are implicated in predisposing infants to the later development of allergy. In contrast, restricted growth in utero, a healthy maternal diet and a larger family size are protective, but the mechanisms here are unclear and require further investigation. Conclusion: To ameliorate the allergy pandemic in young children, we must define prenatal mechanisms that alter the programming of the fetal immune system and also identify specific targets for antenatal interventions.

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