The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Brown Lung Disease in the United States
Brown lung disease is a debilitating pulmonary condition that is most common among workers who handle unprocessed cotton. It is caused by exposure to cotton, hemp and flax processing dust. The good news, however, is that the condition might be partially reversible. According to an article published by Reuters, many cotton workers actually experience improved lung function when they retire.
Brown lung disease, aka byssinosis, “Monday fever” and “cotton lung disease,” is a serious condition that has only recently received attention in the United States since the 1970s. Mills now have to be up to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, and since the implementation of these standards, brown lung disease has significantly dropped in the U.S. According to a journal publication from University of California, Berkley, the cost to employers to keep in accordance with OSHA regulations along with compensation for those suffering from brown lung is high – like one to two billion. While workers’ safety is of the upmost importance, it doesn’t come without a price tag, which is likely why corners were cut in the first place, putting workers at risk. Unfortunately cotton workers in many other countries are at a larger risk for developing brown lung disease because they don’t have the same workplace regulations that exist in the U.S.
Occupational Lung Disease Around the Globe
Several cases of occupational lung disease have been reported in China, which is understandable, considering more than 75% of their population lives in rural areas. An article written by South China Morning Post reports that, according to the Ministry of Health, there were 676,541 reported cases of occupational lung disease in China in 2010. A foundation called Love Save Pneumoconiosis Foundation, however, reported about six million cases of occupational lung disease – more than nine times that which was reported by the health ministry! It may be that the disease is underreported and therefore not getting the attention that it deserves. Awareness is the key to finding a solution.
One 32-year-old Chinese worker, Zhang Haichao, suffers from occupational lung disease and is frustrated with the lack of compensation from his employer for treatment. “A worker is left forsaken when he has sacrificed his health and even his life for the construction of the country,” he explained. Unfortunately, Haichao’s condition has progressed to the advanced stages of lung disease and he is considering a lung transplant. “I have to lie flat on the bed and can’t turn over. I must get up and sit for a while after sleeping for a long time, otherwise I can’t breathe.”
Symptoms and Treatment for Lung Disease
Early symptoms of brown lung disease are wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. These symptoms are often alleviated when a person is removed from the environment that is causing the irritation. However, chronic exposure to unprocessed cotton eventually leads to respiratory failure which is irreversible. Additionally, heavy smoking accelerates the lung degeneration process.
Treatment for acute brown lung disease includes inhalers and steroids. For more advanced cases, nebulizers and home oxygen therapy help alleviate the symptoms. Brown lung disease is an incurable condition, so symptom management is key in treating the condition. Many brown lung disease sufferers have opted in for stem cell therapy, resulting in a better quality of life.