Byssinosis is a rare lung disease. It’s caused by inhaling 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 exclusively in
people who work with unprocessed cotton. People who open bales of cotton during
the first stage of processing are at the highest risk. There’s also a type of
byssinosis called grain worker’s lung that appears in people who work with
Guidelines and laws in the United States have helped keep the
number of people who get byssinosis to a minimum, but it’s still common in
developing countries where safety measures might not be in place.
The symptoms of byssinosis usually appear during the beginning of
the workweek and typically improve by the end of the week. If you’re exposed to
dust particles for long periods, you may experience symptoms during the entire
The symptoms of byssinosis are similar to asthma and include tightness
in the chest, wheezing, and coughing.
If you have a severe case, you may experience flu-like symptoms,
- a fever
- muscle and joint pain
- a dry cough
The symptoms of byssinosis usually go away when you aren’t
exposed to dust anymore. However, lung function can be permanently impaired if
exposure is ongoing.
of Byssinosis and Risk Factors
Byssinosis is most common in textile industry workers. It’s caused
by the inhalation of raw flax, hemp, cotton dust, and similar materials.
Smoking may increase the risk of developing byssinosis. A history
of asthma or allergies may also increase the risk.
To diagnose byssinosis, your doctor will ask you about recent
activities and your work to determine if you’ve been in contact with textile
Your doctor will probably perform a physical exam to check your
lungs and may order a chest X-ray and CT scan of your lungs. Pulmonary function
tests are also often used to check lung health.
Your doctor may give you a peak flow meter to test your lungs
throughout the workweek. This meter tests how quickly you can expel air from
your lungs. If your breathing changes during certain parts of the day or week,
this meter will help your doctor determine when and where you’re being exposed.
Options for Byssinosis
The main treatment for byssinosis is to avoid exposure to harmful
To relieve mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor may prescribe
bronchodilators. These drugs help open constricted airways.
In more severe cases of byssinosis, inhaled corticosteroids may
be prescribed. These reduce lung inflammation. However, these drugs can cause
fungal infections in your mouth and throat. You can reduce this risk by rinsing
your mouth after inhaling the medication.
If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may need supplemental
oxygen therapy. For chronic byssinosis, a nebulizer or other respiratory
treatment may be recommended.
Breathing exercises and physical activity can also help improve
lung health and symptoms.
You may need to quit
your job. Even though symptoms may diminish towards the end of the workweek,
your lungs are still accumulating damage. Exposure to cotton, hemp, and flax
dust over a period of years can cause irreversible damage to your lungs.
Outlook of Byssinosis
Byssinosis typically goes away after the exposure is over. It’s
not considered a life-threatening or chronic disease. However, it’s important
to identify the cause of your byssinosis. This can keep it from returning once
Byssinosis is preventable. If you work in a position that puts
you at risk, wear a mask while working and especially while working near dust.
Companies in the United States have a legal obligation to protect
you from dangerous products at work. Your employer is required to provide you
with protective gear according to the guidelines created by the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This means OSHA requires them to provide
you with a respirator or mask if you work around textile dust.
If you’re a smoker, quitting can also reduce your risk of