What is byssinosis?

Byssinosis is an occupational lung disease that primarily affects workers in cotton processing, hemp or flax industries. Other names for byssinosis include Monday fever, brown lung disease, mill fever or cotton workers’ lung. The number of cases has been decreasing in some European countries but may have increased globally. It does not typically occur in industries that work with cotton that has already been processed into material, thread or other products.

Byssinosis is a unpopular 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 happens 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 is also a type of byssinosis called grain worker’s lung that appears in people who work with grains.

How common is byssinosis?

Byssinosis often occurred in the periods of the industrial revolution. Most commonly young girls working in mills or other textile factories would be afflicted with this disease.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of byssinosis?

The signs and symptoms of byssinosis usually happen during the beginning of the workweek and typically improve by the end of the week. If you are exposed to dust particles for long periods of time, you may have some symptoms during the entire week. The signs and symptoms of this disease are similar to asthma and include tightness in the chest, wheezing, and coughing. In case you have a severe case, you may have flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • A fever
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Shivering
  • Tiredness
  • A dry cough

The signs and symptoms of byssinosis usually disappear when you are no longer exposed to dust. However, lung function can be permanently influenced if exposure is ongoing. Therefore, if you suspect that you may experience this condition, you may need to tell your doctor as soon as possible.

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes byssinosis?

It is proved that raw cotton and other textiles have many biologic materials that trigger reactions in your body, which may be an allergy response or other processes that are not fully understood. These components include “endotoxin”, which is a bacterial product or “tannins”. Although bacterial endotoxin is a likely cause, the absence of similar symptoms in workers in other industries exposed to endotoxins makes this uncertain. Additionally, sisal, hemp and flax have also been known to cause these symptoms. It is a hypersensitivity response in susceptible individuals.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for byssinosis?

Occupations that cause exposure to textile dust include processing of raw cotton, flax and hemp. Exposure and mortality from byssinosis is gradually decreasing in some European countries.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is byssinosis diagnosed?

To diagnose byssinosis, your doctor may ask you about some recent activities and your work to determine if you have been in contact with textile dust. Your doctor will possibly perform a physical exam to examine your lungs and may order some imaging test such as 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 to determine when and where you are being exposed.

How is byssinosis treated?                      

The primary treatment for byssinosis is to avoid exposure to harmful dust as much as patients can.

In term of relieving mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor may prescribe bronchodilators which 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 not high enough, you may need supplemental oxygen therapy. For chronic byssinosis, a nebulizer or other respiratory treatment may be needed. Breathing exercises and physical activity can also help enhance 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.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage byssinosis?

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.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: February 26, 2017 | Last Modified: March 10, 2017

You might also like