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Byssinosis

Definition

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.

See also: Occupational asthma

Alternative Names

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

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Breathing in 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. In those with asthma, being exposed to the dust makes breathing more difficult, but in byssinosis, the symptoms usually go away by the end of the work week. After long periods of exposure, symptoms can continue throughout the week without improving.

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

Symptoms

Symptoms will get worse at the beginning of the work week, and then improve while you are away from the workplace, or later in the work week.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider will take a detailed medical history, and will ask 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, with special attention to the lungs. Other tests include:

Treatment

The most important treatment is to stop exposure 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 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. Respiratory treatments, including nebulizers, may be prescribed if the condition becomes chronic. Home oxygen therapy may also be needed if blood oxygen levels are low.

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

Support Groups

Attending support groups with others who are affected by similar diseases can often help you understand your disease and adjust to the treatments and lifestyle changes required.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually improve after stopping exposure to the dust. Continued exposure can lead to damaged 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.


Review Date: 4/16/2009
Reviewed By: David A. Kaufman, MD, Section Chief, Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Bridgeport Hospital-Yale New Haven Health System, and Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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