Increasing prevalence of asthma over 12 years among dairy farmers on Gotland, Sweden: storage mites remain dominant allergens


Kronqvist Department of Clinical Immunology, Karolinska Hospital, S-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.



Earlier studies from several countries have shown that IgE-mediated allergy in rural populations is of considerable importance and that storage mites are dominant allergens.


In an epidemiological follow-up study among farmers on the island of Gotland, Sweden in 1996 we wished to investigate the prevalence of respiratory allergy and to find out whether storage mites are still important allergens in a farming environment.


A questionnaire concerning airway symptoms, social and working conditions and smoking habits was distributed to all Gotland farmers aged 15–65 years and was completed by 1577 (86.7%), of whom 1015 were dairy farmers. Based on the answers, 500 dairy farmers were invited to undergo a medical examination which included a skin-prick test (SPT) and blood sampling for RAST analyses. Prevalence figures (symptoms, RAST and SPT) given for the whole population (n  =  1015) were based on the investigation of the 461 farmers who took part in the examination.


Immediate onset hypersensitivity was present in 41.7% of the 1015 farmers studied, which is almost the same figure as in 1984 (40.0%). The prevalence of asthma had increased significantly during the previous 12 years (5.3% vs 9.8%), as had asthma in combination with rhinoconjunctivitis (3.7% vs 7.0%). Rhinoconjunctivitis, on the other hand, had not changed significantly (36.5% vs 33.1%) and remained one of the most common symptoms. The prevalence of storage mite allergy in the farming population in 1996 was 6.5% and constituted an important cause of allergic symptoms.


Over 12 years, Gotland dairy farmers have developed significantly more respiratory symptoms from the lower airways, although the proportion with atopy is unchanged. Storage mites are still dominant allergens for developing allergic disease.