Byssinosis may cause shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness in the chest, usually on the first day of work after a break.
The diagnosis is made by using a test that shows decreasing lung function over the course of a workday.
Exposure should be stopped, then wheezing and chest tightness can be treated with medications used for asthma.
(See also Overview of Environmental and Occupational Lung Disease Overview of Environmental and Occupational Lung Disease Environmental and occupational lung diseases result from inhalation of dusts, chemicals, gases, fumes, and other airborne exposures. The lungs are continually exposed to the external environment... read more .)
Causes of Byssinosis
Byssinosis is an asthma-like syndrome that occurs in textile workers who come into contact with unprocessed, raw cotton, flax, or hemp. Specific textile mill jobs are associated with a higher risk of byssinosis.
Evidence suggests that inhaling a substance in cotton dust leads to narrowing of the airways, chronic bronchitis, and a gradual decrease in lung function. Experts believe a toxin produced by bacteria in raw cotton becomes mixed with cotton dust and causes the airways of susceptible people to narrow.
Symptoms of Byssinosis
Symptoms include chest tightness and shortness of breath that lessen with repeated exposure. Symptoms develop on the first day of work after a weekend or vacation and diminish or disappear with subsequent continuous workdays. This typical time pattern distinguishes byssinosis from asthma.
Textile workers with chronic (5 to 10 years or more) exposure to cotton or other dusts can develop obstructive lung disease that has features of both asthma Asthma Asthma is a condition in which the airways narrow—usually reversibly—in response to certain stimuli. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that occur in response to specific triggers are... read more and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is persistent narrowing (blocking, or obstruction) of the airways occurring with emphysema, chronic obstructive bronchitis, or both disorders. Cigarette... read more (COPD).
Diagnosis of Byssinosis
History of exposure and results of lung function tests
Doctors base the diagnosis of byssinosis on the person's history of exposure to cotton, flax, or hemp dust and on lung function tests Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) Pulmonary function tests measure the lungs' capacity to hold air, to move air in and out, and to absorb oxygen. Pulmonary function tests are better at detecting the general type and severity... read more that show airflow obstruction.
Doctors recommend that people who work in the textile industry undergo regular pulmonary function testing in order to detect byssinosis early.
Treatment of Byssinosis
Medications to open airways
Treatment of byssinosis includes avoidance or reduction of exposure and use of medications that treat COPD Treatment Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is persistent narrowing (blocking, or obstruction) of the airways occurring with emphysema, chronic obstructive bronchitis, or both disorders. Cigarette... read more and asthma Drugs for Preventing and Treating Asthma Drugs allow most people with asthma to lead relatively normal lives. Most of the drugs used to treat an asthma attack can be used (often in lower doses) to prevent attacks. (See also Asthma... read more .
Dust exposure can be reduced by wetting procedures, increases in general ventilation, and the use of exhaust hoods. For some tasks, respiratory protection may be required. Workers with persistent symptoms or in whom pulmonary function tests indicate significant obstruction should move to areas of lower exposure.
Prevention of Byssinosis
Controlling dust and using protective devices, such as respirators, dust masks, and other equipment, are the best ways to prevent byssinosis.