The association between the prevalence of both byssinosis and chronic bronchitis and the level of airborne dust was examined in workers in preparing departments in flax mills in Northern Ireland. A weak association between the dust level and byssinosis was found but not between the dust level and chronic bronchitis. It is suggested that the disparity of these associations may have arisen because the diagnosis of byssinosis, as in most recent published studies, was based on relatively acute and reversible symptoms which are more likely to be closely related to the current dust levels than the slowly developing symptoms on which the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis was based. Furthermore an association between chronic bronchitis and the dust levels is likely to be obscured to some extent by the effects of other non-industrial respiratory irritants such as tobacco smoke. Some hypotheses of the basic aetiology of byssinosis are discussed.
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