Farm environment in childhood may protect against sensitization, allergic rhinitis, and asthma.
Subjects were obtained from 10 667 Finnish first-year university students who responded to a questionnaire survey on IgE-mediated diseases. Two random samples were selected from 1631 respondents in Turku: subjects with asthma or wheezing, and subjects without asthmatic symptoms. A total of 296 subjects (72%) participated. Skin prick tests (SPT), measurements of IgE-antibodies, methacholine challenge, and bronchodilation tests were performed. Weighted occurrence of current asthma and sensitization among students from "childhood farm" and "childhood nonfarm" environments were analyzed.
Current asthma was found in 3.1% of subjects with childhood farm environment, and in 12.4% with nonfarm environment (odds ratio (OR) 0.22; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07-0.70). There were fewer positive SPT to birch (8.3 vs. 24.2%, OR 0.28, 95% CI 0.07-1.15) and timothy pollen (12.6 vs. 30.3%, OR 0.33, 95% CI 0.09-1.20) among subjects with childhood farm environment, but more sensitization to house-dust mite (22.0 vs. 4.9%, OR 5.43, 95% CI 1.60-18.46). Sensitization to cat (RAST class >/= 3) was less common in subjects with farm compared to nonfarm environments in childhood (1.5 vs. 13.1%; OR 0.10, 95% CI 0.02-0.47).
Farm environment in childhood protects against adult asthma and sensitization-especially to cat-the most important asthma related allergen. In contrast, sensitization to house-dust mite was more common in farming subjects.