Byssinosis : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is Byssinosis ?

Byssinosis is a occupational lung disease. It’s caused by exposure to hemp, flax, and cotton particles and is sometimes referred to as brown lung disease. It’s a form of occupational asthma.

In the United States, byssinosis occurs almost entirely in people who work with unprocessed cotton. People who open bales of cotton during the first stage of processing have the greatest risk. There’s also a type of byssinosis known as grain worker’s lung that appears in people who work with grains.

Guidelines and laws in the United States have helped keep the number of people who develop byssinosis to a minimum, but it’s still common in developing countries where safety measures might not be on place.

Symptoms of Byssinosis

The symptoms of byssinosis often appear during the starting of the workweek and normally improve by the end of the week. If you’re exposed to dust particles for long periods, you may experience symptoms during the whole week.

The symptoms of byssinosis are similar to asthma. These symptoms include chest tightedness, wheezing, and coughing.

If your case is severe, you may experience flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • a fever
  • pain in muscle and joints
  • shivering
  • tiredness
  • a dry cough

The symptoms of byssinosis often subside when you aren’t exposed to dust anymore. However, lung function can be permanently impaired if exposure continues.

Causes of Byssinosis and Risk Factors

Byssinosis occurs most commonly in textile industry workers. It’s caused by the inhalation of raw flax, hemp, cotton dust, and similar materials.

Smoking may enhance the risk of developing byssinosis. A history of asthma or allergies may also elevate the risk.

Diagnosing Byssinosis

For the diagnosis of byssinosis, your doctor will ask you about recent activities and your work to find if you’ve been in contact with textile dust.

Your doctor will possibly perform a physical exam to inspect your lungs and may order a chest X-ray and CT scan of your lungs. Pulmonary function tests are also usually used to check lung health.

Your doctor may provide you a peak flow meter to test your lungs throughout the workweek. This meter tests how fastly you can expel air from your lungs. If your breathing changes during certain times of the day or week, this meter will help your doctor determine when and where you’re being exposed.

Treatment Options for Byssinosis

The primary reatment for byssinosis is to stay away from the harmful dust.

To alliavate mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor may recommend bronchodilators. These drugs help open narrowed airways.

In more severe cases of byssinosis, inhaled corticosteroids may be recommended. These decrease lung inflammation. However, these drugs can lead to fungal infections in your mouth and throat. You can lower this risk by rinsing your mouth after inhaling the medication.

If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may require supplemental oxygen therapy. For chronic byssinosis, a nebulizer or other respiratory treatment may be suggested.

Breathing exercises and physical activity can also help in improvement of lung health and symptoms.

You may need to leave your job. Even though symptoms may disappear towards the end of the workweek, your lungs are still accumulating damage. Exposure to cotton, hemp, and flax dust more than a period of years can lead to irreversible damaging of your lungs.

Long-Term Outlook of Byssinosis

Byssinosis normally goes away after the exposure is over. It’s not considered a life-threatening or chronic disease. However, it’s necessary to identify the cause of your byssinosis. This can keep it from coming back once it’s treated.

Preventing Byssinosis

Byssinosis can be prevented. If you work in a position that puts you at risk, wear a mask while working and particularly while working near dust.

Companies in the United States have a legal obligation to protect you from dangerous products at work. Your employer is needed to give you with protective gear according to the guidelines created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This means OSHA needs them to provide you with a respirator or mask if you work around textile dust industry.

If you’re a smoker, quitting smoking can also lower your risk of byssinosis.


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