Byssinosis is a chronic, asthma-like narrowing of the airways reulsting from inhaling particles of cotton, flax, hemp, jute and sissal. This chronic respiratory disease is characterized by chest tightness and breathlessness at work after the weekend break or other absence. In its late stages, which usually occur after many years of exposure to dust, the worker is severely disabled with symptoms of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It occurs principally among those who clean and prepare fibres for spinning.
In the cotton industry byssinosis may affect workers in the ginneries where the seeds are removed, the bale pressing plants and the mixing and card rooms where the fibres are cleaned and combed. As a result of the introduction of mechanical picking, which has increased the contamination of cotton with plant debris, and the speeding up of all processes, dust concentrations in workrooms have risen and the disease has recently been found in spinners, winders and weavers. Among flax workers in factories making linen, ropes and twines, byssinosis occurs only in the preparatory processes.
Byssinosis has been described among hemp workers in Spain, where it is called cannabosis. The risk of the disease among hemp workers appears to be confined to the processing of soft hemp, which is a fibre from the stem of the plant used for making ropes and twines.
In developing countries the risk of byssinosis is likely to increase. The building of new textile factories to process the natural fibres which they grow in abundance is an important part of their economic expansion.