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Your Health
grain harvest

Protect Your Lungs

Protective gear helps prevent respiratory problems.

Without protective gear, working around grain dust can cause severe respiratory problems, says University of Missouri (MU) Extension safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

Conditions such as farmer’s lung are serious but preventable, she says.

The need to protect against grain dust increases when farmers combine, load, unload and dry grain. The dust contains plant materials, mold spores, insect parts and excretions, bacteria, and soil.

Exposure to the dust causes wheezing, sore throats, eye and nose irritation, and congestion.

Repeated exposure leads to farmer’s lung. Its symptoms are chills, fever, cough, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and tiredness. Typical symptoms may last 12 hours to 10 days.

Repeated exposure also may result in reduced appetite and weight loss. Lung scarring occurs in the later stages of the disease.

Farmworkers should always wear a dust mask or respirator when working around grain, Funkenbusch says. Respirators come in a variety of types, sizes and costs at farm-supply stores, chemical suppliers, hardware stores or safety equipment companies. Choose one that fits securely around the mouth and nose.

“Try before you buy,” Funkenbusch says, to make sure there is a good seal around the face.

Encourage farmworkers to wear protective gear.

“It protects their health and wealth by preventing injury, illness and unnecessary medical bills,” she says. “Make it a habit to grab it before working near grain. Respirators can prevent many respiratory ailments associated with farming — but only if you wear one.”

She offers tips for choosing a respirator.

Periodically check your respirator for damage and dirt. Do not try to repair or substitute non-manufacturer parts. Clean it often in warm, soapy water. Dry and store in a sealed plastic bag.

For more information, the MU Extension guide “How to Protect Yourself From Respiratory Hazards” (G1935) is available at


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Editor’s Note: Linda Geist is a writer for University of Missouri Extension.



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