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Pesticides Linked to Allergic Asthma in Farm Women

by aseligmann — last modified Jul 12, 2010 12:00 AM
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A recent study of adult-onset asthma in farm women shows that allergic asthma may be linked to using pesticides. Many studies have looked at respiratory hazards of farming activities for men, but there is little research on respiratory risks to farm women.

Pesticides Linked to Allergic Asthma in Farm Women

A recent study of adult-onset asthma in farm women shows that allergic asthma may be linked to using pesticides. Many studies have looked at respiratory hazards of farming activities for men, but there is little research on respiratory risks to farm women.

Using information from a survey of more than 25,000 farm women, researchers focused on the 702 who were diagnosed with asthma as adults. Of these, 60 percent had non-allergic asthma and 40 percent had allergic asthma. (Allergic asthma is triggered by inhalation of allergens such as pet dander, pollen, mold or an occupational exposure such as latex.)

The farm women in this study who grew up on a farm were less likely to develop allergic asthma as adults. In fact, growing up on a farm had a strong protective effect against allergic asthma and a smaller protective effect against non-allergic asthma.

Sixty-one percent of all farm women in the study grew up on farms while other women experienced farm life only after marrying farmers as adults. The study showed that the women least likely to develop allergic asthma were women raised on farms who had never used pesticides; they had a lower risk than women who had never used pesticides and did not grow up on a farm. But this study showed that despite the protective effect of growing up on a farm, using pesticides, particularly insecticides, increased the risk of allergic asthma.

Among all the farm women in the study, 57 percent reported using pesticides at some point in their lives . While women who used pesticides three or more times were more likely to have allergic asthma than women who never applied pesticides, evidence did not show an increased risk in asthma for those who used pesticides for longer periods of time or more frequently than other women.

Information on the number and type of pesticides applied, in addition to the frequency of use, allowed for a more detailed analysis of risks. Among the pesticides that women reported using, 10 were linked to allergic asthma, including two herbicides, one fungicide, and seven insecticides. Among specific classes of insecticides, organophosphates posed the highest risk. Some of these chemicals are used only in agriculture, but others are also commonly used around homes. For example, the two herbicides linked to allergic asthma were glyphosate, which is found in commonly used Roundup, and 2,4-D, a common weed and feed ingredient.

Two of the insecticides associated with asthma risk, malathion and carbaryl (Sevin), are found in garden bug killers. Another insecticide, permethrin, has residential uses both indoors and outdoors. In this study, using permethrin on animals was associated with the risk of allergic asthma, while using it on crops was linked to non-allergic asthma.

 


References

Hoppin, JA et al. 2008.
Pesticides and atopic and nonatopic asthma among farm women in the Agricultural Health Study.
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 177:11-18
NOTE: atopic asthma = allergic asthma and nonatopic asthma = nonallergic asthma

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology:
* Topic of the Month - March - Is your asthma allergic? (2008)
* Tips to Remember: Occupational asthma (2007)