What is pneumoconiosis?
Pneumoconiosis is a general term given to any lung diseases caused by dusts that are breathed in and then deposited deep in the lungs causing damage. Pneumoconiosis is usually considered as an occupational lung disease, and includes asbestosis, silicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as “Black Lung Disease.”
The severity of pneumoconiosis varies widely depending on the type of dust, how much of the lungs are affected and how intense the dust exposure was. Pneumoconiosis sometimes causes no symptoms and is diagnosed during workplace surveillance programs that test workers to find early signs of pneumoconiosis using chest X-rays and/or spirometry (a breathing test to check how well air goes in and out of lungs)
How common is pneumoconiosis?
In 2013 it resulted in 260,000 deaths up from 251,000 deaths in 1990. Of these deaths 46,000 were due to silicosis, 24,000 due to asbestosis and 25,000 due to coal workers pneumoconiosis. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of pneumoconiosis?
The common symptoms of this condition are:
- Cough, with or without mucous (sputum) production
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath. Patients may first notice getting more breathless or winded with activity, like walking or climbing stairs. Some patients may feel breathless even when they are at rest.
In the early stage of pneumoconiosis, patients with pneumoconiosis may experience no signs and symptoms at all.
If pneumoconiosis involves a large part of the lungs or causes a lot of scarring, oxygen may be prevented from easily reaching the blood during breathing. This results in hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels). Hypoxemia may only be present during activity or while sleeping. Hypoxemia may be present all the time if pneumoconiosis is severe or progresses.
Many patients with hypoxemia do not know that their oxygen levels are low because hypoxemia itself does not always cause symptoms like breathlessness. Oxygen in the blood delivers oxygen to all the internal organs, so recognizing hypoxemia is important to prevent stress on other organs, like the heart and brain.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes pneumoconiosis?
Many dusts can cause pneumoconiosis. The most common workplace mineral dusts that are known to cause pneumoconiosis are asbestos, silica (rock and sand dust), and coal dust.
What increases my risk for pneumoconiosis?
There are many risk factors for this condition, such as:
- Workers who might be exposed to asbestos include plumbers, roofers, mechanics and shipyard workers, including naval officers. People are at higher risk of developing asbestosis if they have higher levels of exposure to asbestos dust over longer periods of time.
- Crystalline silica is a main component of dust from sand and rock. Workers who might be exposed to silica include miners, sandblasters, stonemasons and foundry workers. Risk factors for developing silicosis include higher levels of silica exposure and longer time of exposure
- Coal dust is made of carbon-containing particles, and coal miners are at risk of inhaling this dust.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is pneumoconiosis diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed. Your doctor also asks you some question about your history, including the details about your symptoms and exposures. Pulmonary function tests (breathing tests) are also ordered by your doctor. Chest X-ray or CT scan (“CAT scan”) of the chest is able to enable your doctor to diagnose your condition
How is pneumoconiosis treated?
There are no specific treatments or medications for pneumoconiosis, and there is no cure. Most treatments for patients with pneumoconiosis are aimed at limiting further damage to the lung, decreasing symptoms and improving quality of life.
Patients may be treated with inhaled medications (inhalers) if they have symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A pulmonary rehabilitation program may be recommended to improve a patient’s ability to exercise. Oxygen is prescribed if patients have a low oxygen level. Some patients need to wear oxygen all the time, while others only need it when they are active or while they sleep.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pneumoconiosis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with this condition:
- Expect to have regular visits to your health-care provider
- Have regular testing, such as pulmonary function tests (“breathing tests”) or chest X-rays to monitor you and your disease closely
- Have a flu shot every year, and you should ask your health-care provider about pneumonia vaccines.
- People with silicosis should expect a tuberculosis skin test to make sure tuberculosis hasn’t started growing in your lung also.
Taking care of your heart and lungs is one of the most important things you can do for your health if you are living with pneumoconiosis. This means not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke. You should also avoid any further exposure to harmful dusts
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Pneumoconiosis. http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumoconiosis/living-with-pneumoconiosis.html. Accessed March 3, 2017.
Pneumoconiosis. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/225811-overview . Accessed March 3, 2017.
Review Date: August 25, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019