Farmer’s lung

Farmers are at increased risk of respiratory-related health issues due to exposure to organic dusts in the farm environment.

Livestock farming is an occupation where farm personnel risk exposure to dusts, fungi and molds. Livestock housing areas are sources of respiratory contaminants for farm workers. Farmer’s Lung is one respiratory ailment associated with this type of exposure. Farmer’s Lung is caused by the inhalation of allergy causing dusts often associated with moldy hay, straw or grains. When inhaled, these dusts cause an allergic reaction. Acute reactions from inhalation of large amounts of dust at one time occur within eight hours of exposure. Symptoms resulting from acute exposure include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath and general sickness. Acute reaction symptoms often last for about 12 hours after onset.

Chronic Farmer’s Lung results from continuous exposure to moldy dusts. Symptoms develop more gradually and may be mistaken for a common cold. Chronic Farmer’s Lung may cause irreversible scarring and damage to the lungs. Your physician can use several tests to help diagnose the condition and may administer anti-inflammatory medications when warranted. Symptoms of chronic Farmer’s Lung include fever, chronic cough, aches and pains, shortness of breath, weakness and lack of energy.

There are several precautions that can be taken to prevent exposure to allergen laden dusts on farms. First, make sure that hay, straw and grains are properly dried before storing them. When possible, wet down dusty areas if exposure to dusts is anticipated. Provide maximal ventilation when work is done in dusty areas. Handle dusty or moldy hay bales outdoors if possible. Try to maintain as much spatial separation as possible from sources of mold and dust when working with these types of feeds. In dusty and or moldy situations, a dust respiratory device may be utilized to reduce inhalation.

Health related issues arising from exposure to molds, dusts and spores can have very serious and permanent consequences for people exposed to them. It would be wise to be aware of this potential and to take some simple precautions to avoid these problems.

Further information on this subject can be found at the National Ag. Safety Database and more information on work related health issues can be found at the website of the Michigan State University Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the College of Human Health.

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