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Live the Rural Life, Avoid Asthma?

Living in the Country May Be Good for Your Lungs, Survey Shows
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 10, 2005 -- The golden rule of real estate -- location, location, location -- may apply to your lungs' health, a new asthma study shows.

In the study, people living in rural Scotland had some health advantages over their big-city peers:

  • Less likely to have asthma
  • Less likely to have general respiratory symptoms (such as wheezing)
  • Less likely to have eczema or dermatitis (two skin conditions related to allergic conditions)
  • More likely to report better quality of life if they already had a history chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/ emphysema, or chronic cough or phlegm

Of course, not all people in cities have lung problems, and not all country dwellers have healthy lungs.

The report by the University of Aberdeen's Lisa Iversen, MSc, and colleagues appears in Chest.

Wide Open Spaces

It might seem sensible that living in the country would be easier on the lungs than living amidst a city's hustle, bustle, and pollution. You might imagine fresh country air and skies stretching to the horizon, unmarred by smokestacks or automobile fumes.

Does that pastoral image bear up? To find out, Iversen's team mailed lung health surveys to more than 4,500 adults throughout Scotland.

About 2,600 people responded to the questionnaires, which supplied the comparison of rural and urban data.

City vs. Country

Country and city dwellers were similar in age, gender, education, and smoking status.

However, rural residents were more likely to be retired and in the middle class, and less likely to be in the most economically deprived group.

Body mass index (BMI), which has been shown to be important in lung diseases, wasn't noted. Diet, atmospheric pollution, and exposure to lung hazards from farming or other jobs weren't included, either.

It's also not clear where participants grew up. Some may have grown up in the country and moved to town, and vice versa.

As a one-time-only project, the study didn't track trends in lung health over time.

Still, the country life may have some health perks. Other European studies have shown fewer allergies and asthma among kids raised on farms, the researchers note.

"There is some evidence that if the immune system is exposed to high levels of allergens, as might be the case in rural settings, a form of immune tolerance may occur, perhaps resulting in less allergic disease," they write.

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