Asthma risk for farmers is quadruple the UK average
Farmers and farm workers are at greater risk of contracting asthma than people in almost any other job, new research has found.
Along with cleaners and hairdressers, they are more likely to suffer from the breathing condition because of the nature of their work. Experts found the workplace could be to blame for around one in six cases of the condition among adults.
Those regularly exposed to cleaning or disinfectant products, flour, metal and metal fumes were most at risk of developing asthma, they said.
The authors examined the records of around 7,500 British adults whose health was tracked from birth in 1958.
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Information relating to the symptoms of asthma or wheezy bronchitis was collected at the ages of seven, 11, 16, 33 and 42.
The group – which excluded people who reported these symptoms before the age of 16 – was tested for sensitivity to allergens. Scientists also examined their lung power between the ages of 42 and 45 and questioned participants on their work history.
Their analysis showed the start of asthma in adulthood was clearly linked to 18 types of job, including farming, which more than quadrupled the risk of developing the condition, and hairdressing, which almost doubled the risk.
Those who worked in printing were three times more likely to contract the condition than their peers, while cleaners were up to twice as likely to develop breathing problems, the scientists concluded.
Meanwhile, those exposed to high risk agents – flour, enzymes, cleaning or disinfectant products, metal and metal fumes, and textile production – were 53% more likely to suffer from asthma.
The authors said: "We have shown that occupations and exposures related to cleaning and other irritant exposures are consistently associated with an increased risk of adult-onset asthma and that, overall, occupational exposure accounts for an estimated 16% of disease.
"The findings of this study are the first of their kind in the UK and provide valuable information for those concerned with reducing the incidence of asthma in adult life."
Cleaning products have previously been identified as a potential cause of asthma.
The scientists, led by Rebecca Ghosh, of Imperial College London, said: "We observed consistently higher risks associated with working as a cleaner, in jobs likely to include cleaning tasks, and in jobs likely to lead to exposure to cleaning and disinfecting products."
Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay, of Sussex Medical School, said: "It shows that a high proportion of adult asthma in the UK could result from occupational exposure."