Asthma and fibrosis caused by textiles made from natural fibres

  • Clothing industry
  • Ironer
  • Spinning
  • Textile industry
  • Weaving
Cotton, Flax, Hemp, Jute, Kapok, Nylon, Orlon, Rayon, Silk, Sisal, Wool.
Incidence: dependent upon the quality of the working environment. In the case of asthma, the mechanism is IgE-dependent, but type III reactions may also occur. Some substances which act as bronchoconstrictors that act directly (endotoxins) may be encountered. Atopy appears to play a role in the case of asthma. Smoking and previous bronchial hyperreactivity aggravate the symptoms. The prevalence of this work-related asthma is around 6%.
Natural fibres have long been known to be responsible for allergic diseases. In 1961, the first cases of asthma and chronic bronchitis were described in employees working in nylon-producing factories. The raw materials are not the only problem: contaminants and products used in the treatment of the fibres can play a role (formol, dyes etc).
The clinical symptoms are numerous : rhinitis, dry eyes and throat, conjuntivitis and sinusitis. Classic asthma may occur and can be accompanied by chronic dyspenoea which develops into chronic obstructive bronchopathy and, in the case of flax, fibrosis (byssinosis). Longitudinal studies over 16 years show that ventilatory problems are significantly increased compared to controls (p<0.05).
Diagnostic methods
Skin prick test: extracts commercially available for a number of allergens extracted from natural fibres.
Immunological assay: RAST/CAP RAST extracts similarly available.
Bronchial provocation test using the raw material (in Hospital) for asthma.


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As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.