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Byssinosis Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

What Are the Symptoms of Byssinosis?

Cough, difficulty breathing and chest tightness are common. The symptoms may be worst on returning to work after a period where no exposure occurred, such a weekend. On returning, symptoms begin within 1-2 hours of the first day of starting work. These symptoms slowly decrease over the course of the week. In some patients, fever occurs 4-8 hours after exposure to cotton dust and lasts a day. Shivering, flu-like muscle pain, joint pain, tiredness and dry cough may occur. Sometimes workers with long-term exposure such as weavers or mattress makers may have persistent fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath.

What Causes Byssinosis

Raw cotton and other textiles have many biologic materials that trigger reactions in the 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. Sisal, hemp and flax have also been known to cause these symptoms. It is a hypersensitivity response in susceptible individuals.

What Are Risk Factors?

Occupations that cause exposure to textile dust include processing of raw cotton, flax and hemp. Exposure and mortality from byssinosis is decreasing in the United States.

When to See Your Doctor

Any person with breathing difficulty or symptoms like a cough and sputum or wheezing should see his or her doctor, especially if exposure from the work environment is suspected.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: July 29, 2019

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