Rationale: The current prevalence of respiratory disorders and symptoms in Icelandic farmers is unknown, but a high prevalence of respiratory symptoms has been reported in the past. Modern farming practices have been implemented in Iceland in the past decade and the processing of hay has changed markedly leading to less organic dust exposure.
Objective: The aim was to estimate the prevalence of respiratory disorders and symptoms in a nationwide study of Icelandic farmers.
Methods: We conducted a questionnaire-based study of all Icelandic farmers with a comparison group randomly selected from the national citizen registry of Iceland. The questionnaire included items regarding respiratory symptoms and disorders.
Results: Out of 2042 farmers invited to participate, 1107 responded (54%), as did 689 of 1500 controls (46%). Farmers were slightly older and more likely to be male (87% vs. 47%). Smoking rates were significantly lower among farmers than among controls. The prevalence of asthma was not significantly different between the two groups, with a lifetime prevalence of 9.4% (n=104) among farmers compared to 10.2% (n=70) among controls. Medication use for asthma was not significantly different. The prevalence of self-reported, physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis and emphysema likewise did not significantly differ between the groups, but self-reported hay fever was significantly more prevalent among farmers.
Conclusion: The prevalence of respiratory disorders and symptoms among Icelandic farmers is currently similar to non-farmers. This may suggest that modernization of the agricultural environment has had a positive effect on workers' health.