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Breathing easy: preventing farmer’s lung

It’s been quite the fall. Snow, rain, and sleet have wreaked havoc on harvest throughout the region. Although great for soil recharge, all this moisture is not so great for crops still waiting to be harvested. The result is that some farmers have had to put away crops wet and when this happens, so does the likelihood of mould and the likelihood to exposure to mouldy crop dust.

Extrinsic allergic alveolitis, or farmer’s lung, is an allergic disease caused by breathing in dust from mouldy crops. While mouldy hay is a big culprit, any mouldy crop can contribute to farmer’s lung. In acute cases, the sufferer will experience an intense attack about four to eight hours after exposure. Symptoms could include: shortness of breath, a dry, irritating cough, fever and chills, a sudden general feeling of sickness, rapid heart rate, and/or rapid breathing. While symptoms usually subside after 12 hours, in serious cases they can persist for as long as 12 weeks. In less severe cases, the sufferer will experience vague symptoms similar to a chest cold including: coughing, shortness of breath, mild fever and occasional chills, a general feeling of sickness, aches and pains in the muscles and joints, and/or appetite and weight loss. In chronic cases, permanent lung damage can occur.

The first step in any treatment is to avoid further contact with the irritant. But whether you have it or not, there are steps you can take to reduce your mould exposure.

Start by identifying any mould risks that exist on your operation, and explore any options available for reducing spore development. In cases where mould is present, prevent exposure by ensuring workers, family members, and any other nearby individuals are wearing HEPA-filtered (high-efficiency particulate air) dust respirators and are properly trained on respirator use, such as when and how to don them. Dust exposure in buildings can be reduced further through a combination of proper ventilation and spraying mouldy crop before sweeping or transportation. This latter step will help prevent spores from becoming airborne.

Once hypersensitivity occurs, farmer’s lung could persist for years, or longer. If you think you may already have farmer’s lung, talk to your doctor and reference your potential occupational exposure. If you don’t, take the time now to identify and control any dust hazards. You will breathe easier.

For more information on farm safety, visit the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association website.

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