Farmer’s lung is an allergy to the dust from moldy crops. It’s often caused by moldy hay, but any kind of moldy crop can cause this condition.

Untreated farmer’s lung can lead to serious complications including lung damage and even death. The severity of symptoms and complications depends on your sensitivity to mold and on the amount of mold in your lungs.

This article will discuss the basics of farmer’s lung, including symptoms, treatment options, and insurance coverage.

Farmer’s lung is caused by the dust that’s found on moldy crops. This dust contains bacteria spores that are heat resistant and cause irritation.

When crops are harvested in rainy or wet weather, they can start to compost and create heat while in storage. This can result in rapid mold growth and large amounts of mold dust. Workers who handle these spoiled crops then breathe in the accumulated dust.

Farmer’s lung is not an infection. The bacteria causes an allergic reaction, much like seasonal or environmental allergies. It happens as the body’s immune system responds to the presence of mold dust. This creates inflammation and the symptoms of farmer’s lung.

Over time, this repeated immune system reaction can damage the lungs.

Who is most at risk for farmer’s lung?

Adults who handle moldy hay and other crops are at the highest risk of farmer’s lung. Farmers and farm workers who work with hay and straw indoors are at higher risk than people who harvest these crops. Some reports show that it affects between 2-10% of farm workers.

Other people at an above-average risk of farmer’s lung include:

  • straw and grain handlers
  • poultry workers
  • zoo and circus workers who care for animals
  • pet store workers
  • stable employees or people who visit stables recreationally
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​​​​​​​The exact symptoms of farmer’s lung depend on whether you’re experiencing a mild, acute, or chronic case. Chronic farmer’s lung is the result of multiple episodes of acute farmer’s lung.

Symptoms of mild farmer’s lung include are similar to a cold or allergies. They can be easy to ignore. Symptoms can get worse with repeated exposure to crop mold.

Symptoms of acute farmer’s lung include:

Symptoms of chronic farmer’s lung include:

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Medical Illustration by Jason Hoffman

One of the most important parts of being accurately diagnosed with farmer’s lung is discussing your symptoms and any exposure to crop dust with your doctor. This can help them pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis.

You might have some tests, such as bloodwork, to rule out an infection as the cause of your symptoms. If your farmer’s lung is chronic, your doctor might order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRIs, to check for any signs of lung damage.

Farmer’s lung is usually a lifelong condition. Treatment can help you get symptom relief, but avoiding continued exposure to moldy dust is key.

However, if the exposure to the allergen hasn’t been going on for very long and no permanent damage has been done to the lungs, it may be possible to cure your allergy. This requires working with an allergist as well as avoiding all exposure to the dust that caused your allergic reaction for a long time.

Having farmer’s lung means you have an increased sensitivity to moldy dust. Your doctor may write prescriptions for antihistamines, bronchodilator inhalers, and other treatments to ease symptoms.

If you have acute farmer’s lung, you might need a few weeks of rest and recovery in order to prevent lung damage.

How can I clean my lungs naturally?

Lungs are self-cleaning organs. They can repair and heal themselves after exposure to harmful chemicals, irritants, or pollutants stops. In the case of farmer’s lung, this means it’s best to avoid crop dust and let your lungs recover. It’s also a good idea to:

Do lungs repair themselves?

Yes, your lungs can repair themselves. The lungs can self-clean and can repair damage. That’s one of the many reasons why quitting smoking can make such a big difference in your health.

It’s also why avoiding continued exposure to moldy crops is an important part of farmer’s lung treatment.

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Your exact cost will depend on what your doctor orders. However, treatments such as antihistamines and inhalers are covered by nearly all insurance plans.

Many of these treatments also have generic forms available. This can bring down your copayment. Ask your doctor about generic options for your farmer’s lung treatments if you’re concerned about costs.

There isn’t a set course or average life expectancy for farmer’s lung because severity, sensitivity, and treatment all make a drastic difference.

Farmer’s lung can be treated like an allergy. It’s a chronic health condition, but avoiding crop dust and treating symptoms can help you completely avoid symptoms and complications.

However, without treatment, severe farmer’s lung can lead to permanent lung damage and death.

Farmer’s lung is an allergic reaction to moldy crop dust. It’s most commonly caused by moldy hay, but any moldy crop can cause farmer’s lung.

Mild cases of farmer’s lung cause symptoms that are similar to a cold or seasonal allergies. More severe cases can cause permanent lung damage and even death. The severity depends on the amount of dust inhaled and on the individual’s sensitivity to mold dust.

Farmer’s lung is usually a lifelong allergy, but treatment can alleviate symptoms.