New study finds a high prevalence of respiratory problems among Irish farmers

A recent study of farmers health has revealed a high level of respiratory problems and lung function abnormalities.

The Irish Farmers Lung Health Study, undertaken by Investigators from Galway University Hospital / Saolta University Health Care Group, was published recently in Respiratory Medicine.

The study was prompted by the high prevalence of respiratory problems in farmers in other countries and by recent reports of increasing mortality rates within the Irish farming community.

Professor Anthony O’Regan, Consultant Respiratory Physician, University Hospital Galway explains, “the aim of this cross-sectional study was to determine the prevalence of respiratory disease amongst Irish farmers.

The study took place at the 2013 Ploughing Championship where over 400 farmers agreed to complete an investigator delivered questionnaire and undergo lung function testing. Remarkably almost two-thirds reported one or more chronic respiratory symptoms.

Most were non-smokers (91%) yet 13% had a pre-existing diagnosis of obstructive lung disease and 12% demonstrated abnormal lung function.

Unlike non-farming populations obstruction on lung function testing was not associated with smoking but rather appeared to occur in those patients with symptoms or a prior diagnosis of asthma or hay-fever”.

Farmers lung, previously felt to be common in Ireland, was reported by less than 1%.

No definite occupational exposure explained the presence of respiratory symptoms or abnormal lung function but further studies would be required to better define any associations.

The investigators also found that 89% of farming participants were overweight, with average BMI of 29 kg/m2.

This is the first study ever taken that assessed farmers lung health in Ireland and demonstrated a previously under recognized high prevalence of respiratory symptoms and lung function abnormalities in this population.