Joe Grundy of The Archers was 88 years old this year and for as long as I’ve listened to that melodic dum,di-dum,di-dum,di-da tune, (it’s actually a Maypole dance called Barwick Green) he has moaned and groaned about his Farmers Lung usually through fits of chesty coughing.
Joe may use Farmer’s Lung for the sympathy angle with Clarrie and the rest of the folk in Borsetshire but extrinsic allergic alveolitis as the medical condition is known can strike the susceptible at home work and play.
Just look at its common names: Bird-fancier’s lung, Hot tub lung, Mushroom worker’s lung, Chemical worker’s lung and Malt worker’s lung.
It strikes the air sacks and passageways of the lungs which become inflamed when sensitised by repeatedly breathing in organic antigens (protein molecules) in a carrier such as dust or steam usually associated with a process. This is the common denominator in all those colloquial names, the process source, – dairy or grain dust, animal dander (think of it as animal dandruff) and water reservoir vapours. And it’s not just an adult disease; pigeon-fanciers lung is occasionally present in children.
It shows itself in many forms. In its acute state symptoms can start within hours of exposure and can be recognised by headaches, chills, flu like feelings with aches and pains. Usually the symptoms, depending on the length of exposure, diminish within the day but can lead to respiratory distress and a high fever.
Its intermittent form can be present as recurring pneumonia with repeated acute attacks (Joe Grundy’s version). With the chronic form even removing the source of the antigens by, and this is an extreme example, giving up work, there may only be partial improvement of the symptoms and permanent lung damage can occur leading to pulmonary hypertension and ultimately even a heart attack.
As always prevention is better than cure. Safety procedures are simple to adopt in themselves. The main difficulty arises in the education and raising awareness of the potential dangers with staff and clients. They simply do not realise the dangers inherent in carrying out certain apparently simple cleaning tasks such as guano removal, water tower cleaning, mill high level works, swimming pools and sites with air conditioning equipment.
Prevention techniques include:
H&S measures at work, including wearing appropriate PPE and adequate air filters and ventilation.
Choosing your hobby carefully and if you are going to keep birds and suchlike consider the use of filtered facemasks whenever handling livestock.
Proper care and maintenance programmes for swimming pools, hot tubs, humidifiers and air-conditioning equipment.