Outdoor allergens are an important part of the exposures that lead to allergic disease. Understanding the role of outdoor allergens requires a knowledge of the nature of outdoor allergen-bearing particles, the distributions of their source, and the nature of the aerosols (particle types, sizes, dynamics of concentrations). Primary sources for outdoor allergens include vascular plants (pollen, fern spores, soy dust), and fungi (spores, hyphae). Nonvascular plants, algae, and arthropods contribute small numbers of allergen-bearing particles. Particles are released from sources into the air by wind, rain, mechanical disturbance, or active discharge mechanisms. Once airborne, they follow the physical laws that apply to all airborne particles. Although some outdoor allergens penetrate indoor spaces, exposure occurs mostly outdoors. Even short-term peak outdoor exposures can be important in eliciting acute symptoms. Monitoring of airborne biological particles is usually by particle impaction and microscopic examination. Centrally located monitoring stations give regional-scale measurements for aeroallergen levels. Evidence for the role of outdoor allergens in allergic rhinitis is strong and is rapidly increasing for a role in asthma. Pollen and fungal spore exposures have both been implicated in acute exacerbations of asthma, and sensitivity to some fungal spores predicts the existence of asthma. Synergism and/or antagonism probably occurs with other outdoor air particles and gases. Control involves avoidance of exposure (staying indoors, preventing entry of outdoor aerosols) as well as immunotherapy, which is effective for pollen but of limited effect for spores. Outdoor allergens have been the subject of only limited studies with respect to the epidemiology of asthma. Much remains to be studied with respect to prevalence patterns, exposure and disease relationships, and control.
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