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Byssinosis is a chronic, asthma-like narrowing of the airways. Also called brown lung disease, byssinosis results from inhaling particles of cotton, flax, hemp, or jute.


Although inhaling cotton dust was identified as a source of respiratory disease more than 300 years ago, byssinosis has been recognized as an occupational hazard for textile workers for less than 50 years. More than 800,000 workers in the cotton, flax, and rope-making industries are exposed in the workplace to airborne particles that can cause byssinosis. Only workers in mills that manufacture yarn, thread, or fabric have a significant risk of dying of this disease.
In the United States, byssinosis is almost completely limited to workers who handle unprocessed cotton. More than 35,000 textile workers have been disabled by byssinosis and 183 died between 1979 and 1992. Most of the people whose deaths were due to byssinosis lived in the textile-producing regions of North and South Carolina.

Causes and symptoms

As many as 25% of workers with byssinosis have symptoms that continue or recur throughout the workweek. More severe breathing problems seem to result both from exposure to high levels of dust and from longer dust exposure. Workers who also smoke cigarettes suffer the most severe impairment.


Tests that detect decreasing lung capacity during the workday are used to diagnose byssinosis. Obstructive patterns are likely in patients who have had recurrent symptoms for more than 10 years.


Therapy for early-stage byssinosis focuses on reversing airway narrowing. Antihistamines may be prescribed to reduce tightness in the chest. Bronchodilators (drugs used to relax breathing passages and improve air flow) may be used with an inhaler or taken in tablet form. Reducing exposure is essential. Any worker who has symptoms of byssinosis or who has trouble breathing should transfer to a less-contaminated area.

Key terms

Wheeze — A whistling sound made by the flow of high-velocity air through narrowed airways. Wheezing is a symptom of several respiratory diseases including byssinosis and asthma.


Smoking, impaired lung function, and a history of respiratory allergy increase a textile worker's risk of developing byssinosis. Prolonged exposure makes patients wheeze more often and can cause chronic bronchitis. It does not lead to permanently disabling lung disease.


Eliminating exposure to textile dust is the surest way to prevent byssinosis. Using exhaust hoods, improving ventilation, and employing wetting procedures are very successful methods of controlling dust levels to prevent byssinosis. Protective equipment required during certain procedures also prevents exposure to levels of contamination that exceed the current United States standard for cotton dust exposure.



American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. (800) 586-4872.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30333. (800) 311-3435, (404) 639-3311.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a pulmonary disease seen in cotton textile workers and preparers of flax and soft hemp, due to inhalation of textile dust. Two forms are distinguished: acute byssinosis, seen in those who return to work after an absence and marked by tightness of the chest, wheezing, and coughing; and chronic byssinosis, seen in those with years of exposure and marked by permanent dyspnea. Called also brown lung. adj., adj byssinot´ic.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Obstructive airway disease in people who work with unprocessed cotton, flax, or hemp; caused by reaction to material in the dust and thought to include endotoxin from bacterial contamination. Sometimes called "Monday morning asthma" given that patients improve when away from work over the weekend.
[G. byssos, flax, + -osis, condition]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


An occupational respiratory disease caused by the long-term inhalation of cotton, flax, or hemp dust and characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Also called brown lung disease.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


A lung disease linked to inhalation of airborne dust from cotton, hemp and linen; the early stages of disease are attributed to endotoxin.
Clinical findings
Coughing, wheezing, airway obstruction; > 10 years, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and interstitial lung disease, long-term disability.
Bronchodilators, change of occupation.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


Brown lung Occupational medicine A lung disease, secondary to inhalation of airborne dust from cotton, hemp, and linen; the early stages of disease are attributed to endotoxin Clinical Coughing, wheezing, airway obstruction; > 10 yrs, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and interstitial lung disease, long-term disability Management Bronchodilators, change of occupation. See Farmer's lungs.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Obstructive airway disease in people who work with unprocessed cotton, flax, or hemp; caused by reaction to material in the dust.
[G. byssos, flax, + -osis, condition]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


An allergic PNEUMONITIS, similar to BAGGASOSIS and bird-fancier's lung, caused by dust inhalation. Byssinosis is caused by the dust produced in the manufacture of cotton, flax or hemp goods. There is breathlessness, chest tightness and cough becoming progressively worse as exposure continues.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Key words: Prevalence, Byssinosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases, Inhalable Dust, Spirometry and Workplace pollution.
Byssinosis is the most known and specific work-related illness in the textile sector.
There are cases of brown lung (byssinosis) that go unrecorded because they are not correctly diagnosed by occupational doctors, or that are wrongly diagnosed as emphysema.
non-smoking causes of COPD Non-specific occupational dust exposure Byssinosis Cannabis exposure Indoor pollution Burning of biomass fuels Liquids Solids Gases Outdoor and environmental pollution Homozygous alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency Pulmonary tuberculosis Table II.
Furthermore, the author examines the etiology and epidemiology of byssinosis as a disease, concluding that, unlike the more clearly work-induced debilitations of black lung, the characteristics of brown lung led to difficulties in tying the affliction to the workplace, making it compensable under workers' compensation, and setting safe cotton-dust air standards.
Botsch, meanwhile, advances an informative analysis of the attempts by 1970s Carolina textile workers and neopopulist organizers to build a movement among the victims of byssinosis, commonly known as "brown lung" disease.
The problems is that gray cotton contains bacteria that causes byssinosis. Companies are not willing to install dust control equipment necessary to pass OSHA requirements to prevent byssinosis.
It was concluded that 52% cotton ginners had all types of byssinosis while no lung related diseases prevailed among the unexposed subjects.
In most cases the injury or disease has to be assessed as at 14%, however, if the person has pneumoconiosis or byssinosis, s/he needs an assessment of 1% or more Q.
Bacteria growing in the CD themselves scan produce ET during storage and are responsible for producing the broncho-spastic response associated with byssinosis.9
In West Bengal, attempts have been made to study the manifestation of byssinosis [4].Here the occupational lung disease caused by jute, cotton dust in inadequately ventilated working environment among jute workers has created major problems, particularly in respect of health hazards of the workers.