The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Not all lung disease begins with a cigarette.
We’ve seen this story before. Many times, in fact. It’s the story of the construction worker, the miner or the contractor. The individual who worked in conditions that weren’t always beneficial to their health but necessary to their livelihood. Today we often call these workers the “blue collars”—men and women who chose to work with their hands to build the resources necessary for our country to grow. Unfortunately, as time and the economy have evolved, many of these jobs have left the U.S. market and traveled overseas, and in their wake, have not only left communities deprived of generational job security but often times, debilitating health conditions that continue long after the factory doors close.
We’re talking about occupational lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis (PF), emphysema, and interstitial lung disease (ILD)—diseases that primarily result from chronic tobacco smoking, but can also develop internally from direct exposure to harmful airborne particles.
With your health in mind, the Lung Institute is here to explore the issues of Occupational Lung Diseases: What You Need to Know.
What is Occupational Lung Disease?
In short, occupational lung diseases are respiratory diseases that arise from workplace conditions. These conditions can range from anything between sand and dust particles being kicked up when working with concrete or HVAC services, to heavier issues of airborne particulates such as full-blown chemicals, metal particles, and in the case of those with black lung disease, coal dust.
Often, the problem with occupational lung disease rests in the fact that it’s difficult to avoid. If your occupation requires you to be in conditions with harmful airborne conditions, and you’ve spent the last 10 years of your life doing it, there isn’t much of a choice in how to continue. 9 times out of 10, your career path is set, and simply quitting your job just isn’t a feasible option.
These workplace conditions can be particularly harmful when combined with active smoking.
Currently, 19 percent of COPD cases can be attributed to occupational lung diseases, and of those, 31 percent involved individuals who had never smoked. This means that nearly 6 percent of all COPD cases are people who developed COPD strictly from their jobs.
And that’s a worrying statistic.
Industries and Jobs that Are Most Prone
So which jobs and occupations are most prone to lung disease?
Perhaps most relevant to Pittsburgh and other cities within the Northeast, the burning of coal and iron and the process of making steel can be particularly devastating for the workers involved. Specific to this process, however, is the use of hazardous chemicals like Si02, NO₂ and SO₂. Within this field, chronic bronchitis is the most prevalent form of lung disease, preceding only silicosis, which results from the excessive inhalation of dust and sand.
Also specific to the Northeast, and predominantly situated in areas such as Pennsylvania, the inhalation of the coal dust is a commonality of the job and can lead to heavy scarring within the lungs. This ultimately damages the walls of the lungs and their air sacs and leads to increasingly worse lung function.
As its name suggests, construction work can occur virtually anywhere and typically involves exposure to a variety of differing chemicals, dusts, sands and other harmful airborne particulates. Decades ago, asbestos was used in the insulation process, which can now present a dangerous risk for workers involved in home or commercial restoration. Further still, fiberglass as an insulate can also be particularly harmful if worked with extensively—as is this case for many working within this field.
What Can I Do About My Job?
As we alluded to earlier, the problem with the hazardous nature of these jobs is that, once the danger to lung health is realized, there isn’t much choice in whether you continue working. We understand this fact and wholeheartedly sympathize with such a difficult choice. However, you do have a choice when it comes to combatting the harmful conditions of a dangerous workplace.
That choice is choosing to be safe.
Whether it’s wearing a professional painter’s mask, surgical mask, gas mask, etc., it’s important to have a viable filtration system to protect your lungs from the airborne chemicals or particles that may harm it.
The first step in being safe in the workplace is to identify any potential threats to your health and address them immediately.
Steps Moving Forward
If you are working a job that is known to cause occupational lung disease, the most important step after increasing your own safety by wearing a protective mask is to quit smoking. Second to that, it’s important that you address your general health through simple diet and exercise.
With these behavioral changes, it’s possible to greatly affect the pronouncement of symptoms for people with emphysema, COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. However, when lifestyle changes fail to improve your quality of life in the way that you may expect, it may be time to consider stem cell therapy. Rather than addressing the symptoms of lung disease, stem cell therapy may directly affect disease progression and may improve quality of life.
For more information on stem cell therapy and what it could mean for your life moving forward, contact us today or call us at (800) 729-3065. Our patient coordinators will walk you through our available treatment options, talk through your current health and medical history and determine a qualifying treatment plan that works best for you.
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