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Check Out That Cough. It Might Not Be Flu!

It’s cold. You’re working inside the chicken barn with the doors tightly shut. Your head feels totally full and your nose is plugged. You’re shovelling grain and your chest feels tight and there’s an irritating tickle in your throat that just won’t go away. Pay attention to your body. Don’t ignore these signs that could be respiratory disease.

If you handle grains or feeds that create dust; keep hogs, chickens or other animals in buildings; weld; or mix and spray chemicals to control pests, you are exposed to potentially harmful agents that can damage your lungs.

Diseases that affect your lungs may be short-term or chronic. Many grain handlers and hog confinement workers experience acute inflammation — red eyes and sore throat. Then there are allergies when sneezing and sinus congestion take hold. And we all know that chronic sinusitis and bronchitis are all too common amongst farm workers.

Farmers sometimes develop asthma after months and years of exposure to grain dust, storage mites or farm chemicals. Wheezing is an indication of possible asthma.

Who hasn’t heard farmers complain of feeling really sick after shovelling out mouldy grain? Blame the fungi in the grain dust. Their spores are so tiny they evade your body’s defence mechanisms and reach the lungs to cause allergies, skin irritations, headache or organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS.) ODTS is often mistaken for flu. It lasts two to five days with a sore throat, headache, fever and chills. You might have heard it called “grain fever.”

And then there’s Farmer’s Lung, which can become chronic and debilitating. This disease is the immune system’s response to inhaling spores from moulds found in hay bales. Break open mouldy bales inside the barn or shed and you’re setting yourself up for max exposure to mould spores.

And another thing — smoking increases your risk of developing lung disease on the farm.

It’s safest of course to remove the hazard, but since that’s often not practical or even possible, respiratory protection is a must. At minimum, use an N-95 rated face mask. Make sure it fits properly sealing firmly over your nose. Check the options at www.casa-acsa.caand look for more about reducing respiratory hazards on the farm at the Agricultural Health and Safety Network in Saskatchewan http://www.cchsa-ccssma.usask.ca/ahsn/index.php.

Thanks to the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association for providing this farm safety tip.

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