‘Those who live near a farm are less likely to develop allergies’

Living relatively close to a livestock farm could lower one’s risk of developing allergies, a new study has found.

The research, published in UK medical publication Occupational & Environmental Medicine, found that exposure to farm environments during childhood and adult life seems to reduce the risk of atopic sensitisation – in other words, your tendency to develop allergies and asthma.

Previous studies have been conducted which have found that children growing up on farms are less likely to develop allergic disease than urban children.

However, in the case of this study, it was noted that one does not have to necessarily be a farmer or live on the farm to apparently benefit from lowered risk: “People living in rural areas may have similar protective effects for atopy”.

The study was conducted among rural-dwellers in the Netherlands, in an area of high farm density.

Proximity to pig and cattle farms seems to be particularly effective according to the results of the study, but living close to poultry farms seemed to have no effect. In addition, the associations between atopy and livestock farm exposure were somewhat stronger in subjects who grew up on a farm.

Following testing of those who agreed to take part in the research, it was found that the overall prevalence of atopy was 29.8%.

Allergies to grass, at 11.8%, and house dust mite, 11.7%, were more prevalent than cat (5.2%) and dog (3.9%) allergies among those with atopy.

As expected, subjects who grew up on a farm were less often atopic compared with subjects who did not have a farm childhood history with prevalence rates of 21.6% and 33.9% respectively.

It was found that “proxies for farm density – such as the number of farms within 500m – were also clearly associated with a lower atopy prevalence”.

The study authors however issued a note of caution in their conclusion: “We and others have also shown negative health effects of air pollutants emitted from livestock farms in residential areas.

“A reduction of farm emissions that may affect the airways, such as fine dust and ammonia, is required to protect neighbouring residents’ health,” they added.