Pneumoconiosis, also known as "coal workers' pneumoconiosis", miner's asthma, or black lung disease, is a lung condition caused by the inhalation of dust, characterized by formation of nodular fibrotic changes in lungs. These changes may be in the form of industrial bronchitis, a condition which abates 3 to 6 months following the cessation of exposure, or permanent changes in the lung parenchyma, taking the form of macules, micronodules, macronodules, or progressive massive fibrosis. The changes may be exhibited on chest x-rays or CT scans of the chest.
Rarely does simple pneumoconiosis cause significant pulmonary problems. Coal miners with simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis with obstructive airways dysfunction usually have been or are tobacco smokers. Many substances can cause pneumoconiosis including asbestos, talc, coal mine dust, kaolinite, and other metal compounds.
Depending on the type of dust, variants of the disease are considered. For example there are silicosis, also known as grinders' disease; and pneumosilicosis, which is caused by the inhalation of the dust of stone, sand, or flint containing silica. Because many common minerals contain silica, there are different types of silicosis.
Pneumoconiosis is a lung condition that is caused by inhaling particles of mineral dust, usually while working in a high-risk, mineral-related industry. At first, irritating mineral dust can trigger lung inflammation, which causes areas of the lung to be temporarily damaged. Over time, these areas can progress to form tough, fibrous tissue deposits. This stage of pneumoconiosis is called fibrosis. Fibrosis stiffens the lungs and interferes with the lung's normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
There are several different types of pneumoconiosis. The most common types include:
Pneumoconiosis sometimes does not cause any symptoms. When symptoms develop, they can include:
If pneumoconiosis causes severe lung fibrosis, breathing can become extremely difficult. When this happens, the patient's lips and fingernails may have a bluish tinge. In very advanced disease, there also may be signs of leg swelling caused by too much strain on the heart.
Your doctor will ask about your exposure to mineral dusts, the number of years you were exposed, and whether you used protective clothing and equipment. Your doctor will examine you, paying special attention to your chest. This will be followed by a chest X-ray, which will be compared to a set of standard X-rays published by the International Labor Office for the evaluation of pneumoconiosis. Your doctor may order breathing tests, called pulmonary function tests. In some patients, a more detailed computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest is necessary. Less often, a doctor will order a test called a bronchoscopy with a lung biopsy. In this test, a flexible tube is inserted into a lung and a small piece of lung tissue is removed to be examined in a laboratory.
Pneumoconiosis almost always can be prevented. To reduce your risk, you can:
Workers who routinely deal with mineral dusts always should use approved measures (protective equipment and clothing) to limit their exposure and keep from bringing mineral dust home on their clothing. If a mask or respirator is worn as a protection against dust, it must fit properly and be used according to the manufacturer's directions.
Check your house, especially if you own an older house, for areas of exposed asbestos-containing insulation or deteriorating asbestos. The asbestos in these areas must be removed or safely sealed away (encapsulated) professionally.
Smoking worsens the harmful effects of pneumoconiosis. If you smoke, ask your doctor about proven ways to quit.