What is Farmer's Lung?

02 Nov, 2018 03:45 PM
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Inhaling dust from mouldy hay can cause people to develop Farmer's Lung.
Farmer's Lung is a non-infectious disease caused by inhaling dust from hay, silage, straw or grain.
Inhaling dust from mouldy hay can cause people to develop Farmer's Lung.

A person normally breathes about 25,000 times a day, with the lungs taking in oxygen from the air and delivering it to the bloodstream. When people breathe in, air containing oxygen enters through the mouth or nose, travels down the windpipe, to tubes called bronchi.

Bronchi branch out into each lung forming alveoli, which is where oxygen is transferred to passing blood and carbon dioxide is removed. The blood then carries oxygen throughout the body to the cells.

Respiratory damage can happen after inhaling hazardous or infectious materials into the lungs. This can damage the delicate structure of the lungs making them less efficient at oxygen uptake.

Farmers have a higher risk of developing respiratory illness than people working in other professions due to the organic and inorganic dust, smoke (e.g. bushfires, crop stubble burn), toxic gases and agricultural chemicals they breathe in.

The most common respiratory illnesses for farmers include asthma, organic dust toxic syndrome, and farmer's lung.

It is predicted that the prevalence of respiratory disease will increase with the changing climate. So it is important to take preventative action now.

Farmer's Lung is a non-infectious disease caused by inhaling dust from mouldy hay, silage, straw or grain.

The disease is common in dairyfarmers and causes flu-like symptoms, including cough, fever and chills, difficulty in breathing, muscle pain, general discomfort.

This is a condition commonly found in people who handle hay and compost. Farmer's lung can be a serious condition for a person with low immunity (e.g.very young, elderly, pregnant, immune suppressed by drugs or disease, diabetics).

Lung damage caused by Farmer's Lung is not reversible. In some cases, scar tissue (pulmonary fibrosis) develops, further interfering with the normal function of the lungs.

Often, by the time a farmer sees a physician, there is already serious and irreversible damage.

For those farmers who are sensitive, repeated exposure to the allergic trigger can lead to more severe symptoms such as a chronic cough with phlegm containing pus, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and weight loss.

Prevention of respiratory illness can be achieved by:

1. Ensuring organic materials (silage, hay, grain, feed) are kept dry and well ventilated.

2. Avoiding dusty, smoky and mouldy areas

3. Wearing appropriate Australian Standard respiratory masks, which seal the face properly.

This will minimise the risk of inhaling the allergic trigger and prevent a condition developing and progressing.

Farmers taking action

  • Wear appropriate Australian Standard respiratory masks.
  • Limit exposure to contaminants, mould spores, dust from decayed grains and plant residues/pollen.
  • Spray water in stockyards to suppress dust.
  • Be smoke free.
  • If experiencing any symptoms - see a GP.
  • For more information about respiratory risks on farms visit website .

    From the National Centre for Farmer Health

    Source: Phillips, T., Hatherell, T.& Brumby, S. (2018), Managing Health on the Farm, National Centre for Farmer Health. Western District Health Service, Hamilton.

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