Less asthma, thanks to an Amish lifestyle?

I’m not an asthma sufferer, but I found this pretty fascinating. A recent study by researchers at Franklin and Marshall College suggests that something about the Amish or their lifestyle may be connected to lower rates of asthma.

From the Lancaster Online article:

Living on farms and coming from large families are considered protective factors against asthma, just as city dwelling is a risk factor, Miller said.

Those in big families, for example, “are just exposed to more stuff,” he said.

But even when non-Amish women who resided on farms and belonged to large families were compared with their Amish female counterparts, the incidence of asthma diagnoses among Amish women was still less, Miller said.

“We think it’s possible something about the Amish lifestyle is more protective” against asthma, he said.

“It’s conceivable there are genetic factors,” Miller said. Also, exposure to horses could help reduce the risk, he said.

Perhaps this could lead to better treatments, which would be good news for asthma sufferers. However, it’s important to note that none of this is conclusive:

“All we have is a hint that Amish women have less asthma than other women in Central Pennsylvania,” but it’s enough of a difference to require further research, said F&M biology professor Kirk Miller.

Amish Asthma Horses
Asthma-proofers? Photo by Ed C

Most people don’t spend much time worrying about asthma.

It seems to be thought of as more of a “nuisance condition” than something debilitating. But, you can die from an asthma attack, and I’m sure people who have it don’t take it lightly.

In fact, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America claims that each day well over 4,000 Americans visit the emergency room due to an asthma attack, and 9 die from one.

According to the CDC, 8% of “noninstitutionalized” adults have asthma, as do 9.3% of children–over 25 million people in total.

Any asthma sufferers, or relatives of sufferers, out there?  How bad can it be, and how do you deal with it?

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    17 Comments

    1. Margaret

      Very interesting. I have asthma, and I’ve always wanted a horse…think I’ll use this story in my favor! Thanks! 🙂

      1. Glad if it comes in handy Margaret! I wonder if it’s just horses or possibly other animals that might have an effect. Of course it sounds like a good bit of this is still speculation at this point. Still it’s interesting that there is a difference.

    2. Guy

      Amish asthma or allergies?

      Hello
      asthma or allergies Goes Hand in hand
      I think the reason why Amish don’t have much asthma or allergies
      is They don’t have so much STUFF in their house that will collect dust Bunnie and I think they don’t have carpet wall to wall either.

    3. Carol

      Perhaps it’s a hormonal component. When I was pregnant my allergies were just almost non-existent . It seems like many Amish women are in a more-or-less constant state of pregnancy/nursing, so maybe that’s a factor.

    4. Not me, but my kid had asthma

      We had to rush our daughter to the hospital ER when she was three months old. (This would prove to be the first of a number of trips.) The drs. wouldn’t call it asthma ’til a kid turned one, but even by a different name, asthma is what she had. The first home nebulizer (machine that would make a mist out of medication in order to more easily and quickly administer it) I ever saw was one we got for her. For years she took a treatment up to three times a day for about 3/4 of the year. So yes, we know about asthma. Strictly speaking we didn’t spend a lot of time *worrying* about it (as per the article above), but it did demand no small amount of time and concern in treating, evaluating severity, and various other related issues.

      I have no scientific basis for this, so it may be nothing. But I have to wonder if part of the difference in the level of asthma occurrence between Amish and non-Amish is due to our artificial air movement that stirs up particulates that continually irritate one’s system. AC/Heating, and to a lesser degree a plain fan, may keep the irritants circulating, whereas the much gentler natural air flow would arguably allow for more settling of those irritants. Just a thought.

      1. That’s an interesting idea Don. It’s not at all scientific, but I feel better after sitting with the windows open rather than in A/C all day (not necessarily more comfortable, but usually more clear-headed). Maybe the natural air movement has a role in asthma as well.

        That is a lot of nebulizer treatments your daughter went through.

    5. Carol

      Asthma

      Hi Erik, As an RN, I think the above thoughts very we’ll contribute to asthma problems. It’s a serious problem and should never be taken lightly; it can kill. A number of years ago my husband diagnosed me with “exercise-induced”asthma. Been on Singulair ever since+have a puffer if needed(carried w/me,but almost never have to use it). I also wound up allergic to cats as an adult, despite having a kitty growing up. Go figure! It can affect anyone at any stage of life. Sometimes children outgrow it, never to be bothered again+then it very we’ll be a life long issue from not to bothersome to severe. Following one’s own Doctor’s orders to be able to control this is very important. One’s life may depend on ones adherence to good management. Blessings to all, Carol Ann

      1. Perception of asthma as a mild condition

        I was surprised to read that so many deaths are attributed to asthma. In a country of 300 million+, I guess 9 per day isn’t that many compare to something like cancer, but it is still many more than I would have expected.

        I think part of the reason asthma may be taken lightly is its association with allergies (as in the name of the organization I linked above). Allergies can be not much more than a nuisance, or can be very serious or even deadly, though most of us think of sneezing in the spring when we think of allergies, not the more rare ones that can cause serious issues.

        1. (Mis-?) Perception...

          Erik, I don’t fault you or anyone else for having the perception of asthma being mild, but it is a mis-perception. More accurately it is an *incomplete* perception, and for those outside of the medical field it’s pretty much a matter of what one is around that determines his/her perception. But my experience has shown that it is a whole range of intensities, ranging from mild to pretty severe — and the latter are not just random outliers, but a part of the normal range.

    6. Lance

      I believe part of the reason for reduced asthma and allergies amongst the Amish is increased usage of nursing as babies and fresh, whole cow’s milk throughout life. I think that they are basically immunized by their diet. I have seen a young Amish man say I don’t get poison ivy, and to prove it, he grabbed a handful and rubbed it all over his face. Nothing happened, but that is playing with fire, so to speak! Me, I need prednizone prescriptions to get rid of poison ivy. I have several adult onset food allergies, and when I visit the Amish, I have to be very careful about what I eat as the Amish love to cook with peanut butter and maple syrup which both give me problems. As others have pointed out, the lack of carpeting and continuously closed windows is also a contributor to the lack of allergies. No carpet to catch all of the dust mites is a good thing. Daily floor sweeping helps too.

      1. Cleaner Amish homes

        There may be something to that–though a lot of Amish life is dirty, generally the homes are kept very clean, cleaner than the average English home I think it’s safe to say. And linoleum doesn’t give dust mites much of a home.

        I would appreciate that tolerance level to poison ivy. I live in fear anytime I am doing something around underbrush where poison ivy might lurk. Basically dates back to one severe traumatic incident as a young man, I still shudder to think about it 🙂

    7. Laura

      I actually knew a lovely 12-year-old child — she was in my Girl Scout troop — who died from an asthma attack, so I’ve taken it very seriously in the ensuing years.

      I suspect the Amish in general have far fewer problems with allergies in great part because they don’t believe in sanitizing everything their children touches that has healthy dirt on it. Cleanliness, yes; but sanitizing everything with antibacterial soap, chlorox wipes, etc., is really causing a massive upswing in childhood allergies to all kinds of things, and allergies contribute to asthma. Getting dirty while playing is actually healthy for children; it helps provide immune protection for a lifetime.

      And I know personally how lot of asthma is caused by allergies. I had fairly severe asthma for the few years I rode the Washington DC Metro (subway) to work. We moved away from DC, two days later I forgot my asthma meds, and have never needed them again. It was a pure allergy to the molds that grow on the subway. I only ride it rarely these days, and have no problems, but if I started riding regularly again, I suspect I’d be right back on all those inhalers and pills and shots.

      So I strongly suspect living in a clean indoor environment while being exposed to healthy (and usually rural) outdoor dirt is probably a BIG component in the Amish lack of allergies.

    8. Valerie

      Allergies-asthma-

      Interesting (and Laura that is so sad about your friend!)It seems that people with asthma do have the opportunities to take all the precautions to avoid death unless it is very severe and they don’t have their meds or inhaler with them. My mother’s asthma is directly related to allergies-now hers are more from ‘outdoor’ natural environment! Trees, damp weather & rain make it worse. She is better off indoors so it all depends on what you are allergic to. Wait till I make some of these suggestions to mom-she really should be Amish 🙂

    9. Alice Mary

      Hmmm. I don’t have asthma (nor did/do any of my family members in “my” or my parents generations, and we were born & raised in Chicago). But, our house was old–frame, built in the 1880’s, no central heat, only gas space heaters, coal stoves (pot bellied–back in the 1920-s through mid ’50’s). No storm windows, lived next to a cinder alley (not Cinder-ELLA, cinder ALLEY!) But lo and behold, we did have some exposure to horses back in the day—from the rag man who used to come through the alley at least a couple times a month, and horse-pulled produce wagons in the neighborhood (this was late 1950’s-early ’60’s)–mom also used their “free” manure on our postage stamp yard. Maybe the horses, manure, cinders, no central heat, leaky windows had something to do with not having asthma?

      Alice Mary

    10. Jen K.

      I think another factor too may be the lack of cigarette smoking amongst the Amish. I have asthma and the doctor linked it to my mother smoking while pregnant with me (and I would think also being exposed to all that cigarette smoke as a baby and toddler). Mine went away for about 10 years, but returned a few years back which resulted in two ER trips and a four day hospital stay. Most of the time though for me asthma is just frustrating because it can keep me from doing the things I want to do. I’m also not a fan of how much medicine I end up taking because of it.

      I spent the first half of my childhood in the midst of the New Wilmington Amish settlement. A frequent part of that was spent in an Amish home when my parents needed a baby/child sitter. I now regrettably live in an urban environment and my asthma is worse than it ever was in the country.

      I also agree that the recirculated air does something. When I’m in the office all day I have mild symptoms. I go outside and then usually I’m fine by the time I get home. Most of my co-workers say they cough and sneeze more in the office too. We certainly all seem to get sick more and that happens as well with children in daycare/schools with the recirculated air environment. Some of my co-workers’ kids seem to get one cold after another.

      1. Guy

        Amish smoke

        the lack of cigarette?? Yes they smoke and drink

    11. Jen K.

      I’ve seen the rare pipe, but never cigarettes in the group I grew up near. Maybe some groups do and others don’t.