The study also found that women who spend their early years on a farm typically have stronger lungs than their suburban or city-dwelling peers.
Other research has suggested that exposure to germs and potential allergens in early childhood could protect people against allergies later. A team led by the University of Melbourne's Shyamali Dharmage put this "hygiene hypothesis" to the test. Dharmage is a professor in the Center for Epidemiology & Biostatistics.
The team analyzed data from a survey of more than 10,000 adults in 14 countries in Europe, Scandinavia and Australia.
Nearly 64 percent said they spent their first five years of life in a rural village, small town or city suburb. About 27 percent lived in the city and about 9 percent grew up on a farm.
Kids who spent their early years on a farm were more likely to have had pets and older brothers or sisters. These kids also were more likely to have shared a bedroom but less likely to have had a close family member with allergies.
Though their study didn't prove cause and effect, the researchers found that farm kids were less likely to have allergies, nasal symptoms or over-reactive airways as adults than people who grew up anywhere else.
Farm kids were also 54 percent less likely to develop asthma or hay fever and 57 percent less likely to have nasal allergies than city kids. Farm kids were also 50 percent less likely to have asthma than other groups.
The researchers noted that women in all 14 countries who grew up on farms had stronger lungs than those who lived in the city until 5 years of age.
The research was published online on Sept. 26 in the journal Thorax.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology provides more information on risk factors for allergies.
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