What is farmer’s lung?
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Farmer’s lung is an allergy which is set off when dust from mouldy straw, hay or grain becomes lodged in the lungs after breathing it in. If farmer’s lung is sustained and left untreated, it can cause long term, permanent lung damage. This is because the body’s immune response is to kill the lung tissue which surrounds the allergen, which eventually causes permanent damage to the lungs.
The medical terms for farmer’s lung are:
- Extrinsic allergic alveolitis
- Hypersensitivity alveolitis
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
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How is farmer’s lung contracted?
Due to weather and climate conditions, crops are often harvested and stored in damp conditions and when this happens, mould spores form within the crops. When the crops or hay dry out and are moved or cut apart for use, the dust is exposed into the air.
Anyone who works in the area where these crops are used are at risk of inhaling the mouldy, bacteria-filled spores in the dust which can result in individuals becoming ill.
What are the symptoms of farmer’s lung?
There are two types of farmer’s lung: acute and chronic.
Acute farmer’s lung – Acute farmer’s lung develops suddenly, usually only a few hours after exposure to mould ridden crops. If there is no further exposure to the dust, symptoms of acute farmer’s lung should subside after around 12 hours. Symptoms include:
- A dry cough
- Generally feeling unwell or sick
- Fever and/or chills
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
Chronic farmer’s lung – chronic farmer’s lung is the result of long-term exposure to the dust and it usually develops after a number of years.
It is common for sufferers to have numerous episodes of acute farmer’s lung before it becomes ‘chronic’. The symptoms of chronic farmer’s lung are the same as above, however they tend to be more severe. I
n addition, an individual may have unexplained weight loss, a lack of energy, occasional fevers and permanent lung damage.
How is farmer’s lung diagnosed?
If farmer’s lung is diagnosed in its early stages, it is likely that the individual will fully recover. However, this is provided that there is no further exposure to the dust.
If you have any of the symptoms above and have been in an environment where farmer’s lung may have been contracted, you should visit your GP who will follow necessary steps. Methods of diagnosis include blood tests, breathing capacity tests, chest x-rays and allergy tests.
How is farmer’s lung treated?
If you are diagnosed with farmer’s lung, your doctor will often prescribe you with corticosteroids. These are usually used in the short term to aid lung function. Bed rest is also recommended for more serious cases.
The most important thing in treating farmer’s lung is to stop any further exposure to the dust to eliminate the risk of it becoming chronic and an individual sustaining permanent lung damage.
How can farmer’s lung be prevented?
Steps can be taken to reduce the chance of someone contracting farmer’s lung. The main way to do this is to reduce the risk of mould forming in the first place by drying crops as much as possible before storage, and making sure storage areas are well ventilated. Providing workers with respirators will also help with prevention.
Can I make a claim for farmer’s lung?
If you were exposed to dust due to the negligence of your employer (for example by not taking the necessary safety precautions), and have become ill as a result, you may be entitled to claim compensation.
You should seek legal advice as soon as possible where a solicitor will advise you on how to proceed.
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