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Byssinosis

Byssinosis is a disease of the lungs brought on by breathing in cotton dust or dusts from other vegetable fibers such as flax, hemp, or sisal while at work.

Alternative Names

Cotton worker's lung; Cotton bract disease; Mill fever; Brown lung disease

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Breathing in (inhaling) the dust produced by raw cotton can cause byssinosis. It is most common in people who work in the textile industry.

Those who are sensitive to the dust can have an asthma-like condition after being exposed.

Methods of prevention in the U.S. have reduced the number of cases. Byssinosis is still common in developing countries. Smoking increases the risk of this disease. Being exposed to the dust many times can lead to chronic lung disease and shortness of breath or wheezing.

Symptoms

Symptoms are worse at the beginning of the work week and improve later in the week. Symptoms are also less severe when the person is away from the workplace.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider will take a detailed medical history and ask you many questions to try to find out whether your symptoms relate to certain exposures or times of exposure. The health care provider will also do a physical exam, paying special attention to the lungs.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment

The most important treatment is to stop being exposed to the dust. Reducing dust levels in the factory (by improving machinery or ventilation) will help prevent byssinosis. Some people may have to change jobs to avoid further exposure.

Medications used for asthma, such as bronchodilators, will usually improve symptoms. Corticosteroids may be prescribed in more severe cases.

Stopping smoking is very important for people with this condition. Breathing treatments, including nebulizers, may be prescribed if the condition becomes long-term. Home oxygen therapy may be needed if blood oxygen level is low.

Physical exercise programs, breathing exercises, and patient education programs are often helpful for people with a chronic lung disease .

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually improve after stopping exposure to the dust. Continued exposure can lead to reduced lung function. In the U.S., worker's compensation may be available to people with byssinosis.

Complications

Chronic bronchitis may develop.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of byssinosis.

Prevention

Controlling dust, using face masks, and other measures can reduce the risk. Stop smoking, especially if you work in textile manufacturing.

References

Brooks SM, Bernstein IL. Irritant-induced airway disorders. Immunol Allergy Clin N Am. 2011;31:747–768.

Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 93.

Updated: 5/30/2013

Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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