OBJECTIVES: To investigate a large population of cotton textile weavers for reported respiratory symptoms relative to occupational factors, smoking, and exposure to dust. Cotton processing is known to produce a respiratory disease known as byssinosis particularly in the early processes of cotton spinning. Relatively little is known about the respiratory health of the cotton weavers who produce cloth from spun cotton. By the time cotton is woven many of the original contaminants have been removed. METHODS: 1295 operatives from a target population of 1428 were given an interviewer led respiratory questionnaire. The presence of upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms were sought and the work relatedness of these symptoms determined by a stem questionnaire design. Also occupational and demographic details were obtained and spirometry and personal dust sampling performed. RESULTS: Byssinosis was present in only four people (0.3%). Chronic bronchitis had a moderate overall prevalence of about 6% and was related predominantly to smoking. There were several other work related respiratory symptoms (persistent cough 3.9%, chronic production of phlegm 3.6%, chest tightness 4.8%, wheezing 5.4%, and breathlessness 2.3%). All of these were predicted predominantly by smoking (either past or present), with no consistent independent effect of exposure to dust. Work related eye and nasal symptoms were more common (10.4% and 16.9% respectively). CONCLUSION: Byssinosis is a rare respiratory symptom in cotton weaving. Other work related respiratory symptoms were reported but their presence was predominantly related to smoking with no consistent effects of exposure to dust.
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