Background and objective: The increasing urbanization and the decrease in the numbers of farms in southern Germany might be associated with an increasing prevalence of allergic diseases. We compared the prevalence of allergic diseases in farmers, and rural, suburban and urban residents in the small geographical area of Augsburg in southern Germany.
Methods: In a cross-sectional survey adults, aged 25-75 years selected from the community population register were investigated. Rural, suburban and urban residents were defined by community size and farmers by occupation. Allergic respiratory disorders were assessed by self-administered questionnaires and specific IgE antibodies to five common aeroallergens.
Results: In comparison to rural residents the urban population had an increased risk of allergic rhinitis (OR = 1.5; 95% CI: 1.2-1.9), atopic sensitization (OR = 1.2; 95% CI: 1.0-1.4) and sensitization against pollen (OR = 1.5; 95% CI: 1.2-1.9). There was no difference in the risk of asthma (OR = 1.0; 95% CI: 0.6-1.6) and a decreased risk in the sensitization against house dust mite (OR = 0.8; 95% CI: 0.7-1.0). The suburban residents did not differ from urban residents. Farmers had lower risks in allergic rhinitis, atopic sensitization, sensitization against pollen and mites (OR = 0.63; 0.86; 0.51 and 0.80, respectively) than rural non-farming residents, however, these differences were statistically not significant. Reported allergic rhinitis with sensitization to pollen was 2.5 times (95% CI: 1.8-3.6) more prevalent in urban than in rural residents.
Conclusion: A farming environment and rural lifestyle might be associated with unknown protective factors impacting the prevalence of allergies.