Background: Earlier studies have shown a high prevalence of respiratory symptoms in farming communities and that storage mites constitute important allergens. We examined risk factors associated with asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis among Swedish farmers.
Methods: A population of 1015 small-scale dairy farmers was part of an epidemiologic survey. After selection based on symptom reports in a questionnaire, 461 of the farmers attended a medical examination, which comprised SPT, RAST analyses, and lung-function measurements. Risk factors for sensitization to different allergens, and development of asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis were assessed by multiple logistic regression.
Results: The prevalence of atopy was 26.7% among the farmers. For both asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis, sensitization to mites (OR=5.8 vs OR=3.8) and pollens (OR=10.3 vs OR=5.8) was a significant risk factor. There was a significant relationship between sensitization to mites and working time (OR=5.2). Environmental tobacco smoke and exposure to different animal species at the farm did not appear to affect the risk of allergen sensitization or respiratory symptoms. Farmers smoked less than the general population, but they more frequently had reduced FEV1.
Conclusions: Allergen sensitization, especially to mites and pollens, was significantly associated with asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis in a farming community. The results point to allergen avoidance as a major goal for the prevention of occupational respiratory diseases among the farming population.