Introduction: Lower prevalence rates of allergic diseases in rural as compared with urban populations have been interpreted as indicating an effect of air pollution. However, little is known about other factors of the rural environment which may determine the development of atopic sensitization and related diseases.
Objective: The authors tested the hypothesis that children growing up on a farm were less likely to be sensitized to common aerollergens and to suffer from allergic diseases than children living in the same villages but in nonfarming families.
Materials and methods: Three age groups of schoolchildren (6-7 years, 9-11 years, 13-15 years) living in three rural communities were included in the analyses. An exhaustive questionnaire was filled in by 1620 (86.0%) parents. A blood sample was provided by 404 (69.3%) of the 13-15 year olds to determine specific IgE antibodies against six common aeroallergens.
Results: Farming as parental occupation was reported for 307 children (19.0%). After adjustment for potential covariates such as family history of asthma and allergies, parental education, number of siblings, maternal smoking, pet ownership, indoor humidity and heating fuels, farming as parental occupation was significantly associated with lower rates of sneezing attacks during pollen season (adjusted OR 0.34, 95% CI 0.12-0.89) and atopic sensitization (adjusted OR 0.31, 95% CI 0.13-0.73) whereas the association with wheeze (adjusted OR 0.77 95% CI 0.38-1.58) and itchy skin rash (adjusted OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.49-1.50) was not statistically significant. The risk of atopic sensitization was lower in children from full-time farmers (adjusted OR 0.24, 95% CI 0.09-0.66) than from part-time farmers (adjusted OR 0.54, 95% CI 0.15-1.96).
Conclusion: Factors directly or indirectly related to farming as parental occupation decrease the risk of children becoming atopic and developing symptoms of allergic rhinitis.