The role of cotton in respiratory symptoms in the fall
During the fall, many people in West Texas have worsening respiratory symptoms
while cotton is being harvested and ginned. A common complaint is that cotton itself is to
blame for nasal and pulmonary manifestations. Allergic sensitivity to cotton is actually quite
uncommon, even in workers in textile and processing plants. Mold, especially Alternaria and
Aspergillus species, are occasionally found in cotton crops and can be a source of allergens
and mycotoxins. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from bacteria could have a role in reduction
of FEV1 in byssinosis. Enterobacter in cotton dust possesses highly potent LPS which can
elicit a strong inflammatory response in workers. Defoliants, desiccants, pesticides, fertilizers
and exhaust fumes are also potential irritants of the respiratory tract. Cotton alone is not the
primary source of illness during autumn months. A multitude of allergens, microbes, irritants,
and chemical agents that co-exist or are a byproduct of cotton harvesting and ginning are
potential contributors to respiratory disease.
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