Byssinosis, a condition unique to workers exposed to the early part of cotton processing, is also referred to as “brown lung disease.” Its symptoms are asthma-like and can range from mild to more severe.
Symptoms include coughing--generally is at its worst at the beginning of the manufacturing week--tightness of the chest, and wheezing. Many workers may pass it off as not a big deal, especially if so many coworkers exhibit the same symptoms. But, over time, it can become a more serious problem.
A physician looking for the signs of byssinosis in a cotton worker complaining of asthma-like symptoms will likely start by taking a detailed medical history and focus on the exposure to fiber processing.
A general physical exam will ensue, with the physician focusing on the sound of the patient’s breathing. A chest x-ray can illuminate the inflammation of the lungs and a lung function test can assess the extent of the damage.
Treatment for byssinosis includes, first and foremost, the ceasing of exposure to the cotton dust. Workers who depend on their jobs in the cotton industry may be faced with the hard decision of keeping their jobs or keeping their lung function.
Bronchodilators can help relieve symptoms, but in more serious cases corticosteroids may be required. Some people will need oxygen therapy at home. All would benefit from not smoking and from having a good exercise and breathing program.