"Extrinsic allergic alveolitis," "hypersensitivity alveolitis" or "hypersensitivity pneumonitis" are all technical names for Farmer's Lung, which is an allergic pneumonia associated with breathing mould in the air from hay, grain or silage. Though the common name may imply it, this disease is not limited to farmers. Anyone in the vicinity of heat-tolerant bacteria or moulds working in an area with poor ventilation can develop Farmer's Lung.
The most common symptoms of Farmer's Lung are fever, chills, increased cough, increased mucus production, tightness and pain in the chest, and discomfort in the lungs. Winter months seem to worsen these symptoms because mould and bacteria are confined to closed barns and storage areas where they are able to grow and remain in the air.
At the first signs of Farmer's Lung, it is imperative that you contact your family physician immediately. The physician will most likely order lung X-rays and blood work as well as tests including pulmonary lavage, lung function and a lung allergy challenge. In more serious cases, a lung biopsy will be ordered. Unfortunately, there is no simple test to confirm Farmer's Lung.
Farmer's Lung cannot be cured; however, it can be controlled. The most important step in controlling this disease is avoiding all contact with mouldy dust. If shortness of breath is a severe symptom, bed rest and oxygen therapy may be required. There are medications on the market to provide relief from the allergic reaction of a Farmer's Lung attack; however, extensive use is not recommended as they can hide other symptoms. If a patient has become hypersensitive to mouldy dust, the chance of remaining hypersensitive for the rest of his life is a great possibility. Just as with any other allergy, lung damage, once it's developed, cannot be repaired.
To control Farmer's Lung or prevent others from being exposed, it is important to identify, minimise or altogether eliminate any contaminants in your working environment. If it is not possible to remove contaminants, avoid exposure to them, as well as mould and dust, by working in a more controlled environment as much as possible. Maximising ventilation and wearing a respirator can also help control mould and bacteria growth that contribute to Farmer's Lung.
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