What Is Pneumoconiosis?
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The word pneumoconiosis stems from the Greek language and means “dusty lungs.” Pneumoconiosis is an occupational lung disease caused by breathing in particles of mineral dust. It is a form of interstitial lung disease, where the irritant is inhaled and then settles in the lungs, causing inflammation.
This lung inflammation causes scarring to the tissue, which, unfortunately, is irreversible. This transformation takes a while to develop so someone may not show symptoms until after several years of inhaling minerals. Over time, this causes the lungs to harden and interferes with the lung’s normal exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. This puts a person at risk for heart failure, pulmonary tuberculosis and respiratory failure. Ultimately, pneumoconiosis can lead to death.
However, there are many treatment options available that can help reduce the symptoms and, in some cases, even slow the progression of pneumoconiosis altogether. The key to treating pneumoconiosis is to detect the condition early before it progresses beyond a state of treating.
Causes of pneumoconiosis
While there are many factors that can lead to the development of this condition, the most common cause of pneumoconiosis is occupational hazard. Occupations that require their workers to breathe dust and chemicals daily is the leading cause of pneumoconiosis.
The most common occupations associated with the development of this disease include:
- Miners (coal, metal, mineral)
- Ship building and repair
- Iron and steel foundries
- Construction workers
- Insulation workers
- Locomotive workers
- Manufacturing (pottery, glass, porcelain)
If you work in these industries, it is vital that you wear the proper protective gear, such as a mask and respirator, while on the job. You should also get annual check ups and make your doctor away of the risks of your job. This can help prevent you from developing pneumoconiosis later in life.
It is estimated that about 16% of coal miners develop pneumoconiosis from breathing in coal dust. Other factors that increase a person’s risk:
- Exposure to high levels of dust
- Exposure over a long period of time
Some key practices that may help you prevent the development of pneumoconiosis include:
- Do not smoke
- Wear a mask
- Wash the areas of your body that have come into contact with dust
- Safely remove dust from clothing
- Wash your hands and face before drinking or eating
- See your doctor for regular chest x-rays and physical exams
Types of pneumoconiosis
There are three different types of pneumoconiosis: black lung, silicosis and siderosis. Each of these types is caused by breathing in a different kind of chemical. While the symptoms for each condition remain the same, it is important for your doctor to recognize the exact type of pneumoconiosis you have.
- Black Lung – Black lung is an occupational lung disease caused by prolonged breathing of coal mine dust, also called miner’s lung and anthracosis. Coal miners and workers who process or ship coal are at risk, along with workers who manufacture synthetic graphite, lamp black or carbon black.
- Silicosis – Silicosis is an occupational lung disease caused by breathing in silica, a mineral found in sand, rock or mineral ores like quartz. Quartz is the most common form of silica, and is often found in sand, sandstone, slate, some clays, granite and other ores. Workers at the highest risk to develop silicosis are: sandblasters, miners, tunnel builders, silica millers, quarry workers, foundry workers and those who make ceramics or glass.
- Siderosis – Siderosis is an occupational lung disease caused by breathing in dust that contains iron particles. Siderosis is also known as welder’s lung or silver polisher’s lung. Siderosis will show up as abnormal on x-rays but rarely causes any symptoms.
Symptoms of pneumoconiosis
Understanding the symptoms of pneumoconiosis will help you identify the condition sooner, which may help your treatment to be more effective. Because pneumoconiosis is a progressive disease, early detection is key.
The most common symptoms of pneumoconiosis include:
- Chronic cough
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pressure in chest
If you are experiencing these symptoms, consult your doctor to determine a diagnosis for your condition. Your doctor may have you undergo a pulmonary test to determine your lung capacity and function, as well as X-rays and lab work, in order to properly diagnose your pneumoconiosis.
Treatment for pneumoconiosis
There are many methods of treatment for pneumoconiosis. Traditionally, doctors will recommend medication, inhalers and oxygen therapy to compensate for the lack of oxygen being absorbed by your lungs.