Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Asthma and Farm Exposures in a Cohort of Rural Iowa Children

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Asthma and Farm Exposures in a Cohort of Rural Iowa Children

Article excerpt

Epidemiologic studies of farm children are of international interest because farm children are less often atopic, have less allergic disease, and often have less asthma than do nonfarm children--findings consistent with the hygiene hypothesis. We studied a cohort of rural Iowa children to determine the association between farm and other environmental risk factors with four asthma outcomes: doctor-diagnosed asthma, doctor-diagnosed asthma/medication for wheeze, current wheeze, and cough with exercise. Doctor-diagnosed asthma prevalence was 12%, but at least one of these four health outcomes was found in more than a third of the cohort. Multivariable models of the four health outcomes found independent associations between male sex (three asthma outcomes), age (three asthma outcomes), a personal history of allergies (four asthma outcomes), family history of allergic disease (two asthma outcomes), premature birth (one asthma outcome), early respiratory infection (three asthma outcomes), high-risk birth (two asthma outcomes), and farm exposure to raising swine and adding antibiotics to feed (two asthma outcomes). The high prevalence of rural childhood asthma and asthma symptoms underscores the need for asthma screening programs and improved asthma diagnosis and treatment. The high prevalence of asthma health outcomes among farm children living on farms that raise swine (44.1%, p = 0.01) and raise swine and add antibiotics to feed (55.8%, p = 0.013), despite lower rates of atopy and personal histories of allergy, suggests the need for awareness and prevention measures and more population-based studies to further assess environmental and genetic determinants of asthma among farm children. Key words: agricultural occupational exposures, ammonia, animal feeding operations, asthma, asthma diagnosis and treatment, asthma health care policy, asthma school screening, asthma underdiagnosis, asthma undertreatment, children, chronic wheeze, cough with exercise, farming, genetic selection, hydrogen sulfide, hygiene hypothesis, odor, rural. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7240 available via http://dx.doi.org/[Online 7 December 2004]

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Most epidemiologic studies of childhood asthma have been conducted among inner-city or urban populations and have found asthma prevalence to vary by location, likely attributable to differing environmental exposures [International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Children (ISAAC) Steering Committee 1998]. Studies of rural childhood asthma are of particular interest because they have consistently reported that farm children are less often atopic (Braun-Fahrlander et al. 1999; Downs et al. 2001; Riedler et al. 2000, 2001), have lower rates of allergic diseases (Braun-Fahrlander et al. 1999; Kilpelainen et al. 2000; Riedler et al. 2000, 2001; Von Ehrenstein et al. 2000; Wickens et al. 2002), and in several reports also have lower rates of asthma (Ernst and Cormier 2000; Kilpelainen et al. 2000; Riedler et al. 2000, 2001; Von Ehrenstein et al. 2000). These findings are consistent with the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that childhood allergy risk is immunologically modulated in early life by exposure to infectious agents. However, several studies have not found positive associations between asthma and asthma symptoms among children and farm exposures, raising questions regarding the influence of unmeasured risk factors and/or selection in these cross-sectional studies (Chrischilles et al. 2004; Downs et al. 2001; Salam et al. 2004; Wickens et al. 2002).

It is recognized that asthma risk is conveyed by a complex interaction of genetic and environmental determinants, which makes the epidemiologic investigation of farm-related asthma difficult (Douwes et al. 2001; Niven 2003; Schwartz 2001). International studies of childhood asthma among farm children have typically measured atopy to gauge genetic predisposition to asthma but have less consistently described and measured farm environment risk factors, often using endotoxin as an indicator of exposure to infectious agents early in life. …

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