Definition of Byssinosis

Byssinosis is a lung disorder resulting from extended exposure to the dust from cotton, flax, or other textile fibers. Also called brown lung, cotton worker’s lung, or cotton bract disease, byssinosis is an occupational disease that causes asthma-like symptoms.

When detected in its early stages, byssinosis is reversible by eliminating exposure to the responsible irritant. When exposure continues the disorder can cause permanent damage to the lungs with symptoms similar to those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd).

In the United States people who work in jobs where they handle unprocessed cotton have the highest risk of developing byssinosis.

Symptoms and Treatment

The symptoms of byssinosis tend to be worse at the workplace and improve away from the workplace and typically include wheezing and coughing. The diagnostic path focuses on the work history and includes X-rays of the chest and tests to assess pulmonary capacity and function. The most effective treatment is preventing continued exposure, which may involve workplace improvements or changing jobs.

Medications to reduce the hypersensitivity reaction the airways have to the fiber dust, such as bronchodilators and sometimes corticosteroid medications, can relieve or prevent symptoms. Smoking significantly exacerbates byssinosis, so smoking cessation is crucial to other treatment approaches.


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