Pneumoconiosis is one of a group of interstitial lung diseases caused by breathing
in certain kinds of dust particles that damage your lungs. You are likely to come
across these dusts only in the workplace. So pneumoconiosis is called a work-related
Pneumoconiosis often take years to develop. Your lungs can't get rid of all these
dust particles. They cause inflammation in your lungs. Over time this can lead to
Types of pneumoconiosis
The disease has different forms, depending on the type of dust you inhale. One of
the most common forms is black lung disease (miner's lung). It’s caused by breathing
in coal dust. Another is brown lung, which comes from working around dust from cotton
or other fibers. Other types of dusts that can cause pneumoconiosis include silica
and asbestos. Diacetyl, the compound used to give movie popcorn its buttery flavor,
also can lead to the disease. This is called popcorn lung.
Pneumoconiosis can be simple or complicated.
Simple pneumoconiosis. This type causes a small amount of scar tissue. The tissue may be seen on an X-ray
as round, thickened areas called nodules. This type of the disease is sometimes called
coal worker pneumoconiosis (CWP).
Complicated pneumoconiosis. This type is known as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Fibrosis means that there
is a lot of scarring in the lungs.
For either simple or complicated pneumoconiosis, the damage causes the loss of blood
vessels and air sacs in your lungs. The tissues around your air sacs and air passages
get thick and stiff from scarring. It becomes harder to breathe. This condition is
called interstitial lung disease.
Symptoms of pneumoconiosis often depend on how severe the disease is. Simple CWP may
have few symptoms and show up only on an X-ray. PMF may cause mild to severe trouble
breathing. Symptoms may include:
Who's at risk
Being exposed to dust that can cause pneumoconiosis, in an everyday setting, is not
enough to cause the disease. But you could be at risk if you've worked around or directly
with these dusts. Studies show that about 16 out of 100 U.S. coal miners may over
time develop interstitial fibrosis from coal dust. Other dust exposures that may put
you at risk include working with asbestos fibers or silica dust. Your risk may also
be increased by:
You may be diagnosed with pneumoconiosis if you have symptoms and a history of working
around coal, asbestos, or silica. You may also be diagnosed by having a routine X-ray
during the time you are working. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Acts require that
all underground coal miners be offered a chest X-ray after 3 years and then at 5-year
periods to look for the disease. Your healthcare provider may use any of these to
help make a diagnosis:
Personal history of work exposure and physical symptoms
Chest X-ray to look for lung nodules
CT scan of the chest
Pulmonary function studies
Pneumoconiosis can’t be cured. Once the disease has been diagnosed, treatment is aimed
at keeping it from getting worse and controlling your symptoms. A treatment plan may
The main complication is when simple pneumoconiosis progresses to PMF. These are other
Prevention is important because the disease can't be treated or reversed. The Occupational
Safety and Health Administration sets standard prevention rules for workers at risk
for pneumoconiosis. These are common prevention measures:
Wearing a mask
Washing areas of skin that come in contact with dust
Safe removal of dust from clothing
Washing your face and hands thoroughly before eating, drinking, or taking any medicines
Letting your healthcare provider and your employer know about any symptoms of pneumoconiosis
Getting regular chest X-rays and physical exams
Getting a yearly flu shot. The flu is a common cause of pneumonia. Because of that,
getting a flu shot every year can help prevent both the flu and pneumonia.
Getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria
that is spread from person to person. It can cause minor problems, such as ear infections.
But it can also develop into life-threatening illnesses of the lungs (pneumonia),
the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and the blood (bacteremia).
This immunization has prevented pneumococcal pneumonia in both adults and children.
But as with all vaccines, some people should not get this immunization. Ask your healthcare
provider if you should have this immunization.
When to call the healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider if you have shortness of breath, a lasting cough, a
cough that produces lots of phlegm, or worsening symptoms.
Living with pneumoconiosis
Pneumoconiosis is a long-term (chronic) lung disease. Learn as much as you can about
your illness and work closely with your healthcare team. Include close family members
in your care and educate them about the diseases. Follow these tips to better manage
Get a flu shot every year to help protect your lungs. Ask your healthcare provider
about getting the pneumonia vaccine.
Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
Ask your provider if a pulmonary rehab program could help you.
Try to get regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Try frequent, smaller meals if a full stomach makes it harder
Struggling to breathe can make you feel anxious and stressed. Talk about your feelings
and get help from a mental health provider if needed.
Think about joining a support group. The American Lung Association has Better Breathers Clubs all around the country that can help.