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Eur Respir J. 2008 Sep;32(3):603-11. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00033707. Epub 2008 Apr 30.

Farm exposure in utero may protect against asthma, hay fever and eczema.

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  • 1Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand.


The aim of the present study was to assess which factors contribute to the lower prevalence of allergic diseases in farmers' children, and the importance of timing of exposure. In a cross-sectional questionnaire survey, asthma symptoms, hay fever and eczema were assessed, as well as current, early and prenatal farm-related exposures in 1,333 farmers' children and 566 reference children aged 5-17 yrs. Farmers' children had a lower incidence of asthma symptoms and eczema. Current and maternal exposure during pregnancy to animals and/or grain and hay reduced the risk of asthma symptoms, hay fever and eczema. The exposure-response association for maternal exposure was nonlinear for most outcomes. After mutual adjustment, the effects of prenatal exposure remained unchanged whereas current exposure remained protective only for asthma medication, asthma ever and hay fever. Exposure during the first 2 yrs was not associated with symptoms, after controlling for prenatal exposure. A combination of prenatal and current exposure was most strongly associated with wheeze (odds ratio (OR) 0.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.28-0.80), asthma medication (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.30-0.82), asthma ever (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.33-0.76), hay fever (OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.30-0.73) and eczema (OR 0.46, 95% CI 0.30-0.70). Prenatal exposure may contribute to the low prevalence of asthma, hay fever and eczema in farmers' children, but continued exposure may be required to maintain optimal protection.

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