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Byssinosis

By

Carrie A. Redlich

, MD, MPH, Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program Yale School of Medicine;


Efia S. James

, MD, MPH, Yale School of Medicine;


Brian Linde

, MD, MPH, Yale Occ and Env Medicine Program

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2023
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION

Byssinosis is a narrowing of the airways (asthma-like syndrome) caused by inhaling cotton, flax, or hemp particles.

  • 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.

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.

Diagnosis of Byssinosis

  • History of exposure and results of lung function tests

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

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.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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