Byssinosis is commonly known as “brown lung disease.” It is a condition that is unique to individuals who have been exposed to the tiny fibers produced in cotton, hemp, and flax processing. These tiny dust particles can block the tiny airways in the lungs, causing breathing difficulty.
In the United States, it is almost exclusively workers who handle unprocessed cotton who develop byssinosis. These workers tend to experience wheezing, tightening of the chest, and coughing.
Oddly, these symptoms tend to show up at the beginning of the work week for these cotton workers, and clear up by the end of the work week. However, this does not mean that the cotton fibers are no longer causing harm.
After long-term exposure, byssinosis can cause permanent damage to the lungs, in the form of scarring of the lung tissue. Because of the chronic irritation of the cotton fibers and the ensuing inflammation of the lung tissue, the lung tissue can harden and scar over time.
The only way to contract byssinosis is to be exposed to cotton processing. Thus, the only way to resolve the symptoms and prevent further damage is to stop the exposure. However, those who smoke can also quit smoking, to increase the benefits of ending the exposure. Non-smokers heal better and faster from byssinosis.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about byssinosis, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.