The aim was to test the hypothesis that atopy increases the occurrence of chronic bronchitis. Relations between atopy, smoking, and chronic bronchitis were studied in farmers. The data were from two successive postal surveys and a skin prick tested subsample. The cross-sectional study consisted of 9017 farmers. Those 6899 farmers who did not have chronic bronchitis at the beginning and who continued farming were followed for three years. A sample of 150 farmers was skin-tested with 36 allergens. The prevalence of chronic bronchitis (rate per 1000), standardised for age and sex, was 41 in non-atopic non-smokers, 101 in atopic non-smokers, 106 in non-atopic smokers, and 257 in atopic smokers (effect of atopy: p less than 0.001; effect of smoking: p less than 0.001). The standardised incidence rates of chronic bronchitis (per 1000 farming years) were 14, 34, 36, and 50, respectively (atopy: p less than 0.001; smoking p less than 0.001). The relative risk of chronic bronchitis, calculated from the incidence data adjusting for the effects of age, sex, smoking or atopy by logistic regression analysis was 2.2 for atopy (95% confidence interval 1.8-2.7) and 2.3 for smoking (1.8-2.9). Only 20 farmers had chronic bronchitis in the skin-tested subjects; the results were consistent with the findings in the surveys but did not reach statistical significance for atopy. In conclusion, atopy and smoking have independent and additive effects on the occurrence of chronic bronchitis at least in dusty farming work.
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