Etiology

In the agricultural setting, etiologic factors for occupational asthma include organisms that create various high molecular weight antigens, pollens, and animal danders that can cause sensitization and subsequent IgE-mediated asthma. Farmers may also become allergic to components of organic dusts, including grain dust, pollens, and antigens from swine and storage mites. Certain exposures have been found to have an increased risk for asthma. Work in swine confinement areas, poultry operations, greenhouses, and in growing rice increases the risk of asthma. Some specific outbreaks have also been described, such as asthma caused by sensitivity to soybeans. The agricultural and farm environment is generally not a source of low molecular weight chemicals. However, some farmers may perform a significant amount of welding on the farm, and this may be a source of exposure (13,37,44,99,100).

In contrast, being raised on a farm is associated with a lower prevalence of asthma. Early-life exposure to organic dust may have a protective effect against developing asthma and atopy. It is not known if this protective effect is lost in adult farmers who also were raised on farms. Lower rates of asthma have been found in young adults who were raised on farms compared to young adults not raised on farms (101-105).

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