Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory illness is a major cause of death in Australia and is present in farming communities. COPD is an abbreviated term for lung conditions which include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma all of which are irreversible

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is often a debilitating disease that is both preventable and treatable. Previously identified as a disease of mostly smokers, COPD is now considered to be a risk of some occupational exposures.

COPD is a long-term condition of the lungs which causes shortness of breath. Even though COPD is irreversible and there is no cure, there are things you can do to breathe easier and improve your quality of life particularly if it is diagnosed and managed early. Importantly there are things you can do to prevent COPD. In the first place.

Most cases of COPD develop after repeatedly breathing in fumes (usually tobacco smoke) and dust that damage the lungs over a long period of time. Farmers have high rates of COPD than non-farming working controls despite generally lower rates of smoking. This suggests that on farm exposure to lung irritants such as animal dander, organic and inorganic dusts, smoke, fumes and chemical vapours may play a key role. The good news is there has been a steady decline in tobacco smoking since the 1970s, and we are now seeing a steady decline in COPD-related deaths.  An important factor in COPD among farmers is likely to be the respiratory exposures encountered during working and living on the farm. Exposures from livestock handling, poultry, organic and inorganic dusts, bacteria, endotoxin, spores and potentially toxic gases, such as those found in silos, vats, tanks and welding fumes.

Preventing exposure is very important.

To find out more about COPD visit Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:

Australian Lung Foundation

Research & reviews:

European Respiratory
COPD in farmers: what have we learnt?

The Department of Health, Australian government
Chronic respiratory conditions – including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)
Chronic respiratory conditions – including asthma and COPD in Australia

Fast facts:

Chronic obstructive airways disease

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a range of lung conditions like bronchitis and emphysema.
  • COPD is related to smoking. Farmers have a higher rate of COPD than the general population even though rates of smoking are lower among farmers.
  • Wear an appropriate mask when dealing with dust, agricultural chemicals or smoke from fires.
  • Avoid getting infections and have an annual flu vaccination.

Last updated: 4th May, 2020