A new study in the Irish Medical Journal has found a high prevalence of work-related respiratory and upper airways symptoms among dairy farmers.
Researchers at the School of Health Sciences National University of Ireland Galway studied respiratory symptoms in a cohort of 126 dairy farmers.
Some 34.4pc had cough symptoms, 29.4pc had upper airway symptoms, 31.7pc had eye symptoms.
The authors suggest that the symptoms may be related to work-related dust.
Exposure to organic dust and its microbial constituents such as fungi, allergens and endotoxin have all been linked to the development or exacerbation of respiratory diseases or respiratory symptoms among farmers.
Recent research has shown that Irish dairy farmers can have high and variable levels of organic dust and endotoxin exposures, often in excess of recommended health based exposure limits.
In recent years there have been significant changes in work practices and processes in the farming community.
Despite these improvements dairy farmers continue to experience a high rate of work-related respiratory morbidity.
Dairy farming practice in Ireland still differs from that in other countries where enclosed or semi enclosed animal houses are normal practice.
The levels of dust exposure did not differ between automated or manual feeding methods.
In this study no difference was noted in the symptom profile whichever feeding method was used.
In French dairy farmers it has been suggested that dust exposure on dairy farms carries the same risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) as cigarette smoking.
Previous studies have also found a high level of nasal polyps and rhinitis as well increased inflammatory markers in famers in Germany.
Different inflammatory responses may occur in human nasal and bronchial epithelial cells on exposure to dust on a dairy farm.
Despite improvements in work practice farmers continue to have significant work-related respiratory symptoms.
The researchers said further studies are required to define the nature and significance of these symptoms.