What is Byssinosis? - Definition & Symptoms

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson is going to go over a peculiar kind of respiratory disorder known as byssinosis. You'll learn why it's strange in terms of its definition and symptoms.

Monday Morning

Imagine going into work every Monday morning only to experience tightness in the chest every single Monday! Does that happens because you're simply really stressed about going to work after a weekend? And what if, by the end of the week, that chest tightness were to disappear? Have you simply gotten used to being at work after a long workweek? Is that why the chest tightness is gone?

Or maybe, this happened as a result of byssinosis. In this lesson, find out what this is and why it causes strange signs and symptoms to appear.


Byssinosis is the proper term for an asthma-like disease of the lungs, which is caused by chronic inhalation of dust particles from organic matter, such as cotton, flax (linen), jute, hemp, or sisal, and results in a narrowing of the airways. Synonyms for byssinosis include mill fever, brown lung disease, cotton bract disease, and cotton worker's lung.

As you can guess by now, byssinosis usually occurs in people who have been exposed to such kinds of dust over a long period of time in an occupational setting. Think: textile workers.

The origins of this term and its common-use meaning are actually a bit all over the place. One thing is clear though. The ''-osis'' in byssinosis refers to an abnormal condition of some sort, and the ''byssos'' part comes to us from the Greek word for flax.

But this term or its similar derivatives (e.g., ''byssus'') have also been used to refer to, generally speaking, any white, fine, and silky fiber. This is why byssinosis isn't limited to an abnormal state caused by particles of flax, but also includes cotton and other fibers.

Textile workers, such as these individuals working with cotton, may be at risk of developing byssinosis.

Signs & Symptoms

And now we go back to that weird introduction. The signs and symptoms of byssinosis may include any combination of the following:

  • The so-called ''Monday tightness'' (chest tightness that occurs or worsens after coming back to work from a weekend or vacation)
  • Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Shivering
  • Fatigue

Such signs and symptoms begin within a few hours after coming back to work. Interestingly, these signs and symptoms, especially chest tightness, diminish or disappear as the workweek goes on, so the person may have no significant problems by the end of the workweek.

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