Dairy farmers suffer 'high rate of respiratory disease issues'
Warnings over risk of exposure to dust hazards
Irish dairy farmers have a high incidence of respiratory problems which may be due to continuing work-related dust exposure, a new study has revealed.
Research on 126 dairy farmers aged between 19 and 75 found a third had a cough.
Similar numbers complained of upper airway symptoms and others had eye problems, the study led by the School of Health Sciences in NUI Galway showed.
"The rate of respiratory symptoms did not relate to herd size or the method of feeding used by farmers," the findings stated.
Although farming is an occupation with a healthy image, offering a job in the great outdoors, the reality is it has some occupational hazards. These include exposure to grain dust, pollen, animal dander, soil dust, welding fumes and diesel exhaust. All of these can lead to respiratory problems.
Although they are less toxic than some chemicals, dusts are suspended in the air and can easily enter the lungs and cause damage.
Long-term exposure to dust can be accompanied by congestion, coughing or wheezing, sensitivity to dust, and frequent respiratory infections such as colds, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Over time, exposure to dust can result in serious respiratory illnesses, such as farmer's lung, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other ailments.
Mechanical feeding methods were used by 61pc of farmers, the study in the 'Irish Medical Journal' revealed.
The researchers, including Cavan and Monaghan Hospitals, as well as the School of Physics in NUI Galway, said the level of dust did not differ between automated or manual feeding methods.
The respiratory problems were also evident despite the rate of smoking among the group of farmers studied being just 6pc, which is lower than the national average of 19.5pc.
The study pointed out that "in recent years there has been a significant change in work practices and processes in the Irish farming community".
It said that "dairy farming practice in Ireland still differs to that in other countries where enclosed or semi-enclosed animal houses are normal".
In France, it has been suggested dairy farmers are exposed to dust that carries the same risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties - as cigarette smoking.
Other studies have found a high level of nasal polyps, soft growths that can lead to a blocked nose, among farmers in Germany. They also had evidence of rhinitis, which causes a person to have the symptoms of a cold.
Occupational health experts say there are various ways farmers can reduce the risk of inhaling dust, including ensuring hay and crops are adequately dried before storing, to avoid mold growth and mold dust.
A mask or respirator may also be worn to prevent dust inhalation. Farmers are advised to provide as much ventilation as possible when working in dusty, confined areas.
If possible, they should perform dusty work outside for increased ventilation. When opening a bale of hay keep a safe distance by breaking it with a tractor when possible. Use a fork rather than bending close.