OBJECTIVE--To assess the prevalence of distal airway obstruction and its risk factors in agricultural areas. METHODS--A cross sectional study of respiratory symptoms and lung function was performed among French farmers and their spouses (1122 subjects) who came for preventive medicine examinations. They answered a respiratory questionnaire and performed pulmonary function tests on a portable spirometer. Diagnoses of chronic bronchitis were made on the basis of reported chronic respiratory symptoms. Airway obstruction was determined from predicted values. Odds ratio (OR) and linear regression coefficients were calculated after stratification by smoking and history of cardiac and other respiratory diseases. RESULTS--Of respiratory symptoms prevalence of chronic cough was 8.47%, and chronic bronchitis 7.66%. Prevalence of distal airway obstruction was 11.4%, and overall airflow obstruction 3.2%. Smokers were 20.2% men, and 5.7% women. Linear regressions showed high association between pack-years in smokers or exsmokers and forced expiratory volume in one second/forced vital capacity (FEV1/VC) and forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% of vital capacity (FEF25-75). In non-smokers without any history of cardiac or respiratory diseases, age and the size of farms had the highest correlations with these variables. OR for distal airway obstruction was 2.1 in subjects > 50 years old v the younger ones and 3.02 in the smaller farms v the larger ones. CONCLUSION--After stratification by smoking and history of cardiac and respiratory diseases, distal airway obstruction is present in agricultural areas. The age, and the size of farm are the highest respiratory risk factors in non-smokers.
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