Effects of mercury on maturing immune system have been reported, however the association with respiratory and allergy problems during infancy remains unclear. The aim of this study is to evaluate the association between pre and postnatal mercury exposure and respiratory and allergy problems among preschool children and to examine the role of potential modifying factors. Study subjects were children participant in Spanish Childhood and Environment Project (INMA, 2003-2008). We measured total mercury levels in cord blood (n = 1868) and hair at 4 years of age (n = 1347). Respiratory outcomes (wheezing, severe wheezing, chestiness, persistent cough, eczema and otitis) were obtained by questionnaires administered to parents. Associations were investigated by logistic regression adjusted for socio-demographic and lifestyle-related variables in each cohort and subsequent meta-analysis. We tested effect modification by factors related to individual susceptibility, diet and co-exposure with other pollutants. The geometric mean of cord blood and hair total mercury was 8.20 μg/L and 0.97 μg/g, respectively. No statistically significant association between pre or postnatal mercury exposure and respiratory and allergy outcomes was found. Notwithstanding, lower maternal intake of fruits and vegetables increased the risk of some respiratory outcomes due to the prenatal exposure to mercury (p < 0.05). Moreover, an inverse association between prenatal mercury exposure and some respiratory outcomes was observed among children with higher maternal exposure to organocholorine compounds or smoking (p < 0.05). Also, sex and postnatal smoking exposure modulated mercury postnatal effects on persistent cough (p < 0.05). In conclusion, no association between pre and postnatal mercury exposure and respiratory and allergy problems among the whole population at study was found. However, diet and other toxicants could modulate this relation, especially during prenatal period. More research on this topic is warranted due to the limited evidence.
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