Objectives: To examine the olfactory ability of farmers and identify exposures in agricultural environments associated with olfactory loss.
Study design: Cross-sectional.
Methods: 405 individuals (214 males and 191 females) completed a questionnaire assessing agricultural exposures, health status, and olfactory history. Participants then completed a scratch-and-sniff 12-item odor identification test. Data analysis was conducted using the method of least squares to fit general linear models. Equality of outcome measures (the number of correctly identified odorants) between groups was evaluated using the Wilcoxon rank sum test. Differences were considered to be significant at the 0.05 level.
Results: Approximately 80% of participants reported active participation in farm work. Farmers correctly identified an average of 9.3 of 12 odorants, compared to 10.1 of 12 correctly identified by non-farmers, a difference that was not statistically significant (p = 0.2). Participants reporting sneezing after handling soybeans, wheat, or oats scored significantly lower than those without symptoms. There were suggestive associations between olfactory ability and exposure to anhydrous ammonia, history of wheezing and asthma, and a history of flu-like illness after farm work.
Conclusions: Results indicate that, in general, farming is not associated with olfactory loss. However, we identified certain groups of farmers with inflammatory-type reactions who appeared to be susceptible to olfactory loss. The association between inflammatory reactions or conditions and olfactory loss is a novel finding.