The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baker's lung?

jenibee's picture

Baker's lung?

Does anyone know anything about Baker's lung/flour lung? I've been having some respiratory problems for the past three or four weeks - not like asthma, there's no wheezing - just tightness/constriction in my throat and chest. My DH made a link between when I got my grain mill...and I've been grinding wheat every day since then...and the coughing/constriction. It comes and goes, but it seems to be getting worse. Went to the doctor, and he didn't detect anything (wouldn't ya know...) and told me I'm perfectly healthy. It makes it tough to breathe. Does anyone have experience with this or links for more info?



KosherBaker's picture

What kind of a grain mill do you have? What kind of a milling process do you use? Meaning is there a lot of flour dust when you are milling the flour?


jenibee's picture

I have a Country Living Grain Mill.  I hadn't even thought about the dust before, but it's possible that it's irritating because I have to use a lot of "muscle" (and deep breaths) to grind my grain. (?)

MaryinHammondsport's picture

Hi, Jenibee:

I am not a medical person, and never heard of baker's lung until you brought it to our attention. I don't have any idea whether using your grain mill is causing your problem or not. But your husband has observed something, and he has an insight that you should pay attention to. This is what I would do if I were you.

Get a dust mask (or a couple, they are cheap) from the hardware store or paint store. They are re-usable. Here is a photo of the sort of thing I am talking about.

You should be able to find them locally. If not there are many many places on the web where they are available.

You don't need anything more expensive -- this should screen out enough particles, just as it is. We use them for sanding off paint or running a sander when doing woodworking. I use one when mixing fabric dye because the dye particles are very fine and can fly around. Yes, you will feel very silly, wearing one. You may scare the dog. But if the problem you are having is caused by grain dust, you will be helping yourself. If not, the worst you will have to put up with is a warm face and feeling silly. It's worth it.

On the other hand, pay attention, and see if your symptoms have gone away after a few weeks, once you are no longer exposed to the grain dust. If not, push your doctor. I googled "baker's lung" and you don't want to have it.

Take care of yourself.



pmccool's picture


In addition to what the others have mentioned about avoiding inhalation of significant quantities of grain dust, you may also want to check with an allergist to see if you have an allergy to any of the grains that you have been milling.  What you are experiencing (assuming that it is connected with the milling) may be an allergic reaction. 

There are pulmonary diseases (bakers lung, bakers asthma, flour lung, etc.) that are caused by long-term exposure to high concentrations of grain dust.  Your exposure is much less than the typical threshold for developing such diseases and it seems unlikely that a home grain mill would produce adequate amounts of air-borne dust to cause that kind of a problem.  In other words, if it made that much dust, you would have thrown out the mill because you couldn't stand to have everything in your house coated with dust, like a typical mill does.

In addition to the suggested dust mask, you might want to experiment with milling outdoors to see if your symptoms moderate.  You might even want to go 30 days or so without using the mill at all.  Either way, see a doctor if your symptoms don't abate.  They might be caused by something else entirely that needs medical attention.


jenibee's picture

That's a good idea - I had to go to the after-hours clinic b/c I was out of town, but I may go by my naturopath's office this morning and see if she can work me in.  She caught a lot of allergies with my ds, so she might be able to find something.

I'll definitely be getting some masks to almost seems ludicrous to ask about Baker's lung when I've only been milling for a month, but perhaps you're right about it being some sort of grain allergy.

Thanks for your comments!  I'll get back to you in awhile (after doctors/treatment/etc.) and let you know how it went...for baking posterity and such. :)

harderthanrock's picture

try taking a benaydrl before milling,,,i always hated a dust mask ,,might go the old bank robber way, and see if just a bandanna might cut down on the dust intake, and after milling use your nelli pot to clear away anything that did get in,,,

harderthanrock's picture

if you can move your operation near a window,, a fan set in it to help pull the dust away from you and put it out side would be a big help,, or just let the fan blow on a low speed across you work area so you stay in the fresh air, would solve a lot of your problems, if this thing is dust related

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jeni.

As I understand it, the symptoms you are having are "tightness in (your) throat and chest." There is no cough and no wheezing. Your symptoms are subjective, that is, they are sensed by you. If there is no wheezing and no signs of irritation in your throat, there is nothing for your doctor to find objectively on a routine examination.

There are two things your doctor could do to assess your breathing more objectively: One is to do some measurements of your lung capacity and how quickly you can expel air. These would be more sensitive measures of constriction of your airways associated with "asthma." The second is to give you a medication to expand your airways. If asthma is not your problem, the medicine would have no effect on your breathing or feeling of tightness. If you feel better and, especially, if the breathing measurements improve, you have asthma by definition.

If you do have asthma or not, the question of what is causing the feeling of tightness is separate. It may be an allergic reaction, which is an immune hypersensitivity to some substance, usually but not always a protein, or a response to irritation. (By the way, "allergy testing" results are really not diagnostic. They only tell your doctor the probability that you have an allergy to the substance that yielded a "positive" test. They do not tell him or her whether your symptoms are allergic. See below.)

In either case, if you have a suspected trigger for the symptoms, in your case your flour milling, the simplest (and best) action is to remove it. I'd suggest you just don't use your flour mill for 10-14 days. If your symptoms do not improve, it is unlikely that they are caused by flour milling. If they do improve, start using your mill again but with a protective mask as has been suggested. If your symptoms re-occur, even with the mask, you will have to decide on another way to eliminate the offending trigger or stop milling (or continue milling and suffering). If your symptoms do not re-occur with the mask, try not using the mask. If your symptoms do not come back, they were most likely due to something else entirely. If your symptoms do return, it sounds like you need to wear a mask when you use your mill.

I hope you can follow the logic of my recommendations. It would be better communicated as a diagram. If you have any questions about this, ask them.


jenibee's picture

Hi David,

Thanks for the comments - I've decided to stop milling for a week or two to see if the symptoms go away.  I DO have coughing, but it's not productive and so doesn't seem much like asthma.  When I had asthma attacks as a child/teenager, I was always coughing a lot of stuff up.  TMI...? :)  I appreciate your taking the time to write out a response.  I'm going to stop milling for now (!!!) and see whether that helps.  I'll get back and let y'all know how everything is going in a few weeks.




dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jeni.

I think you are doing the right thing.

A couple more comments on asthma: The fact that you did have asthma in the past makes it a bit more likely that your current chest symptoms are also asthmatic. Secondly, the cough associated with asthma can be productive, especially when there is an associated infection, but a dry cough, especially one that is worse at night when lying down, is caused by asthma more often than not. It can appear long before you are aware of chest tightness or wheezing.

I hope you feel better real soon.


debwince's picture

My friend who recently started her own bakery just spent 10 days in the hospital/ICU and was diagnosed with bakers lung.  She will be on oxygen and meds for a long time to come.  She originally thought it was the flu, then pneumonia.  Take it very very seriously!! 

Janknitz's picture

I don't have a mill and one of the reasons is that I am concerned about the dust it would produce.  My asthma symptoms are definitely triggered by the burning grains from loose flour and other grains used in baking, so I've taken several steps to reduce that.  I've also found I can't bake when I'm already symtomatic--it just makes things worse. 

Instead of using flour, cornmeal, or other grains under dough to make it slide on my peel, I use baker's parchment that is coated ONLY with silicone (supposed to be safer than Quilon which is a common coating for baker's parchment) and use it within the prescribed temperatures for the parchment paper.  For example, a lot of people get Reynolds brand parchment at the grocery store but that's rated only to 420 degrees, and I bake a lot of breads at 450.  I use a brand called "If You Care" baker's parchment rated to 450, silicone coating, and unbleached.  I also trim the parchment close to the dough so there's less chance of burning. 

I do like a cornmeal crust on things like my rye bread, but I bake that in a covered clay baker so that the cornmeal doesn't burn.

I'm also tending to use less flour on the bench, which sticks to the loaf and may burn on the bottom of the loaf.  I'm using a marble board, and sometimes I spray it with a thin coat of olive oil instead of using flour for dough handling. 

And my asthma seems to be "cough variant" asthma--more coughing, less wheezing.  Generally when I'm having symptoms, my cough is non-productive because the muscle spasms are clamping down and preventing the gunk from being expelled from the sacs in the  lungs.  So a non-productive cough is not necessarily a good thing where asthma is concerned. 

markdabaker's picture

I know this is an old post but I hope everyone who grinds their own grain has learned a valuable lesson. Wear a face mask when grinding flour. It just makes sense. Look at any of the videos of small, breadmaking operations and you'll notice most of the people in the kitchen are wearing some kind of mask. This is to protect their lungs from dust.

Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Unfortunately 1/6 bakers will develop this illness. Currently I'm in Stage 1, borderline 2. Stage 3 is irreversible and it has made me rethink my profession. I've been a huge advocate of getting dusk masks in bakeries especially for mixers. For a home baker who bakes infrequently this shouldn't be an issue, however homes are infamous for poor ventilation so while you're mixing it's not a bad idea to wear a mask. Another trick we use in the bakery is to flour tables only when necessary which saves a lot of air pollution. European bakeries are now outfitting mixers with flour guards with great success. If you're somewhat or gluten intolerant baker's allergies will have 4x the effect. Best of luck and I hope your condition improves.

Alchemist42's picture

I have some experience here.  But as the subject states, it related to chocolate.  Or more specifically cocoa and the dust produced from the husk during the winnowing process.  After years of cracking and winnowing cocoa beans by hand, with dust everywhere, I started noticing the exact symptoms you describe.  Dry cough.  Very tight chest.  Asthma meds actually helped short term.  It finally lead me to invent a winnower ( that contained the dust.  But for the years leading up to it's completion I had to mask up.  And a basic nuisance dust mask didn't cut it.  It had to be a full bore  mask that sealed, with the two replaceable filters.  What it lead to was the same symptoms around wood and grain dust, the later of course being flour.

Years later, I'm more tolerant of various dusts (like basic kitchen level flour) but mask up always for wood or grain milling. 

I guess the point of all this was to say start masking up with a REAL mask, don't rely on meds and don't let it get worse...and it will get some better with time most likely...but will always stay with you to some degree or another.

And now that I am considering milling my own grain, need to work on a containment system so this doesn't flare up.