Pesticides and atopic and nonatopic asthma among farm women in the Agricultural Health Study

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 Jan 1;177(1):11-8. doi: 10.1164/rccm.200706-821OC. Epub 2007 Oct 11.


Rationale: Risk factors for asthma among farm women are understudied.

Objectives: We evaluated pesticide and other occupational exposures as risk factors for adult-onset asthma.

Methods: Studying 25,814 farm women in the Agricultural Health Study, we used self-reported history of doctor-diagnosed asthma with or without eczema and/or hay fever to create two case groups: patients with atopic asthma and those with nonatopic asthma. We assessed disease-exposure associations with polytomous logistic regression.

Measurements and main results: At enrollment (1993-1997), 702 women (2.7%) reported a doctor's diagnosis of asthma after age 19 years (282 atopic, 420 nonatopic). Growing up on a farm (61% of all farm women) was protective for atopic asthma (odds ratio [OR], 0.55; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.43-0.70) and, to a lesser extent, for nonatopic asthma (OR, 0.83; 95%CI, 0.68-1.02; P value for difference = 0.008). Pesticide use was almost exclusively associated with atopic asthma. Any use of pesticides on the farm was associated only with atopic asthma (OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.14-1.87). This association with pesticides was strongest among women who had grown up on a farm. Women who grew up on farms and did not apply pesticides had the lowest overall risk of atopic asthma (OR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.27-0.62) compared with women who neither grew up on farms nor applied pesticides. A total of 7 of 16 insecticides, 2 of 11 herbicides, and 1 of 4 fungicides were significantly associated with atopic asthma; only permethrin use on crops was associated with nonatopic asthma.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that pesticides may contribute to atopic asthma, but not nonatopic asthma, among farm women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / prevention & control
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / prevention & control
  • Causality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / prevention & control
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / epidemiology
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors


  • Pesticides