Lungs: You Only Get One Set


It’s something that we take for granted, but for some farmers it’s not easy to do, especially if their lungs have been damaged by dusts and molds.

Agricultural industry workers, such as farmers and ranchers, are exposed to substances that can cause breathing problems, especially during harvest times. Tiny dust particles and mold spores that live in animal hair, bedding, hay, grain, silage, and dried urine and feces, can become airborne and easily inhaled into the lungs. Some of these substances can cause severe respiratory problems, both immediate and long term.

Common Respiratory Conditions for Farmers
  • Farmer’s Lung: Pictured below. Caused by an allergic reaction to molds found in spoiled grain or forage products. Not everyone will develop symptoms, only susceptible individuals will react. Farmer’s Lung is not the same as silo-filler’s disease. To read more about Farmer’s Lung, click here.
  • Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS): Caused by a reaction to inhaling a large amount of molds from spoiling grain or forage products. ODTS can happen to anyone exposed, and many people mistake it for the flu. Often, people who work in dusty conditions for the day will feel sluggish and run down the following day or two. To read more about ODTS, click here.

For both conditions include chills, fever, cough, chest congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can appear from 4-12 hours after exposure and can last from 1 to 7 days.

Protect Yourself
Dusts and molds are almost impossible to avoid if you work in agriculture.

The easiest and most effective way to protect your lungs is to wear a two-strap disposable dust mask (called a respirator). The mask covers the nose and mouth areas and is held on by two different sets of strap. One-strap masks are not recommended because they do not provide enough protection.

  • Click here [pdf] for a step-by-step visual of how to put on, check for proper seal, and take off a disposabe respirator.

A disposable respirator can be used multiple times and are available in different classes, which differ by the type of filter (type N, R, and P), and efficiency levels (95%, 99%, and 99.97%). A common type is a 2-strap N95 respirator and can be purchased in general farm supply stores for as little as $1.00 – $2.00 or by contacting Rural Health Initiative. When not in use, place it in a sealed plastic bag and store it near dusty jobsites.

To learn more about respirators, click Respirators: Commonly Asked Questions [pdf].

Sources: National Farm Medicine Center and