What is Byssinosis?

It is a disease related to certain occupations that involve exposure to unhealthy working environments containing cotton dust, vegetable fibers like hemp, flax, jute and sisal. This is a chronic lung disorder that arises in workers of yarn mills and fabric manufacturing industries. The dust and impurities get trapped in the lungs to give rise to a condition similar to asthma which makes breathing difficult.

The disorder is also known as “Brown lung disease” and “Monday fever”.

Byssinosis Causes

This disease is common with people who work in the textile industries. Those who are prone to dust and impurities can develop this asthma-like condition. Cotton dust does not directly result in this disease. The causes include agents such as endotoxins which are present in the cell walls of gram negative bacteria. These bacteria grow on the cotton. Those who inhale cotton dust for a long time period develop infection which spoils the general structure of the lung and triggers the release of histamine which blocks the air passage causing breathing difficulties. With time, the dust gets stored in the lung and lends it a typical color which gives the disease its particular name.

Card room in cotton mills are filled with dust particles measuring 2 microns, small enough to enter the deeper air passages and penetrate the tissues. It leads to development of lesions. Excess inhalation of cotton dust also results in thickening of the inter-alveolar septa due to leukocytic, dust cell infiltration and edema. Smokers are likely to experience the severe impact.

Byssinosis Symptoms

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Cough
  • Breathing trouble

Chronic Byssinosis Symptoms:

  • Narrowing of the lungs
  • Invalidism with emphysema
  • Scarring of the lungs
  • Development of bronchitis

Such problems can eventually lead to death due to cardiac failure.

Byssinosis Diagnosis

For the diagnosis of this condition, a doctor is likely to take a note of the medical history of patients and detect the clinical symptoms associated with this disease. It is also important for doctors to know the type of occupation a patient is engaged in. It might shed light on the different aspects of the disease. The symptoms are usually prominent on the first day of the work and gradually get reduced with continuous exposure. Individuals with chronic illness continue showing symptoms even when the job is switched. Chronic byssinosis has been observed by medical experts to appear even 20 to 30 years after exposure to dusty environments.

During physical examination, doctors take note of the wheezing sounds in the chest with the help of a stethoscope. Certain tests are conducted to further confirm the diagnosis. These involve:

  • Chest x-rays, which are done to ensure there are no lung disorders present
  • CT scans, which are also very helpful in detecting lung diseases.
  • Pulmonary function tests, which are carried out with the help of spirometers.
  • Peak flow meters, that helps in measuring the lung volume and capacity. These also examine and measure blockages and restrictions present in the air flowing via lungs which confirms the presence of lung disease.
  • Arterial blood gases and oxygen saturation amount test, to study the smooth exchange of gases in the lungs. This test reveals the rate of absorption in the blood.

Byssinosis Treatment

This disease can be treated with the help of medications that are used for asthma, such as bronchodilators. Bronchodilators are administered to relax the breathing passages and enhance the air flow. They can be taken with an inhaler or can be taken in tablet form as well. Bronchodilators also give relief from wheezing. Antihistamines are also prescribed by doctors to minimize the tightness in the chest. Chronic forms of byssinosis can be treated with nebulizers. Oxygen therapy is required at home if the blood oxygen levels are below normal. Breathing exercises and physical exercises help patients to recover fast. Finally, patients should be kept away from contaminated areas and should be asked to quit hazardous jobs.

Byssinosis Prevention

The first and foremost step to take for preventing this disease is to stop exposure to textile dust completely. Minimizing the dust levels in the factory, improving ventilation and use of supportive machinery is urgent and essential. Changing jobs could also be the surest way to prevent developing byssinosis. Affected people can make use of face masks, exhaust hoods and other protective equipment to prevent exposure to contaminated air. Smoking can aggravate the condition. Thus, smokers should quit the habit totally.

Byssinosis Prognosis

The symptoms usually improve once exposure to dust is stopped. However, continued exposure will lead to the destruction of lungs completely. Smoking, if continued, can impair lung functions. Death can occur if no treatment is carried out once the complications appear. In some cases, the symptoms appear for a short period and there are no long-term effects.


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