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Tobacco Worker's Lung Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Roger B Olade, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 03, 2014


A comprehensive history of exposure to tobacco mold and leaves should be obtained. Workers not using masks during their working period are 5 times more likely to develop this disease.[6] Longer duration of work is associated with an increased risk of disease. In a 2009 study, those working with tobacco for more than 10 years were twice as likely to develop the disease compared with those working in the field less than 5 years.[6]

Tobacco worker’s lung, as with most hypersensitivity pneumonitis syndromes, has acute, subacute, and chronic presentations.

In acute presentations, patients develop abrupt onset of fever, cough, chills, myalgias, headache, and malaise about 4-6 hours following exposure to tobacco plants and molds. These symptoms are self-limited, resolving in 12 hours to several days once the patient avoids the inciting agent. The symptoms may recur with reexposure.

Patients who have had long-term exposure to tobacco plantations usually have insidious onset of cough, exertional dyspnea, fatigue, and weight loss. Disabling and irreversible respiratory findings due to pulmonary fibrosis may occur late in the course of the disease. Removing patients from tobacco exposure results in only partial improvement.



Physical examination reveals the following:

  • Tachypnea
  • Diffuse fine rales
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Digital clubbing
  • Fever
  • Evidence of cor pulmonale


Major causative antigens include the following:

  • Aspergillus species
  • Scopulariopsis brevicaulis
  • Rhizopus nigricans [7]
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Roger B Olade, MD, MPH Medical Director, Genesis Health Group

Roger B Olade, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Klaus-Dieter Lessnau, MD, FCCP Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine; Medical Director, Pulmonary Physiology Laboratory; Director of Research in Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Medicine, Section of Pulmonary Medicine, Lenox Hill Hospital

Klaus-Dieter Lessnau, MD, FCCP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Thoracic Society, Society of Critical Care Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jazeela Fayyaz, DO Pulmonologist, Department of Pulmonology, Unity Hospital

Jazeela Fayyaz, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, James H Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University

Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC Professor and Head, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba; Site Director, Respiratory Medicine, St Boniface General Hospital

Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Thoracic Society, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Royal Society of Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine, World Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Gregg T Anders, DO Medical Director, Great Plains Regional Medical Command , Brooke Army Medical Center; Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Disease, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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High-resolution CT scan of lungs shows ground-glass opacification seen in an acute phase of tobacco worker's lung.
Giant cells are a characteristic feature of acute tobacco worker's lung, which is a form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
High-resolution CT (HRCT) scan shows a ground-glass appearance and reticulonodular opacities in subacute phase of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) secondary to moldy hay.
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