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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.


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.


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]


/bys·si·no·sis/ (bis″ĭ-no´sis) brown lung; pulmonary disease due to inhalation of the dust of cotton or other textiles.byssinot´ic


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.


Etymology: Gk, byssos, flax, osis, condition
an occupational respiratory disease characterized by shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing. The condition is an allergic reaction to dust or fungi in cotton, flax, and hemp fibers. The symptoms are typically more pronounced on Mondays when workers return after a weekend break. They are reversible in the early stages, but prolonged exposure results in chronic airway obstruction, bronchitis, and emphysema with fibrosis, leading to respiratory failure, pulmonary hypertension, and cor pulmonale. Treatment is symptomatic for the irreversible changes of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Compare pneumoconiosis. See also organic dust.


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.


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.


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]


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.