Pneumoconiosis is characterized by any inflammation of the lungs that is caused by the inhalation of dust particles, including smoke, chemicals, asbestos and other toxins.
This inflammation makes it difficult for you to breathe. With black lung disease, you may experience shortness of breath during physical activity. As the disease progresses, it may become difficult to perform simple tasks, such as walking, without losing our breath.
Pneumoconiosis is an incurable disease and the scarring it causes in the lung tissue is irreversible. However, there are treatment options available to assist with controlling the symptoms and slowing the progression of inflammation.
The level of success you can expect from your treatment depends on how early on your pneumoconiosis is diagnosed. Learning how to recognize the symptoms and knowing when to seek medical attention may help you get the assistance you need before the condition causes other lung diseases or respiratory failure.
What are the symptoms of pneumoconiosis?
Black lung disease is a chronic disease that progresses slowly over time and its symptoms can take years to show up.
The symptoms associated with pneumoconiosis include the following:
- Persistent coughing with mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness of the chest
You may notice that these symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. The difference though is if you know you have prolonged exposure to breathing in hazardous foreign agents, these symptoms may be from pneumoconiosis, especially if they persist for a long time.
When you notice these symptoms, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.
What are the causes of pneumoconiosis?
Pneumoconiosis is caused by irritation and inflammation from inhaling dust and other particles. If you have worked around any of the following, you may have an increased risk of pneumoconiosis:
- Coal mines
- Textile mills
- Beryllium, aluminum oxide, cobalt and talc
Even if it’s been years since you worked in these types of environments, you should still seek medical assistance if you experience the symptoms of pneumoconiosis. The symptoms may take years to develop, so they might show up long after you’ve moved on from your job.
How is pneumoconiosis diagnosed?
The first clue to diagnosing black lung diseases is discussing work and lifestyle history. Your physician will note if you’ve been exposed to dust, chemicals and asbestos. Furthermore, he or she will order some tests to confirm your diagnosis.
These tests may include some of the following:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Pulmonary function test
- Listening to the lungs for obstruction
If you work in an environment with prolonged exposure to dust, chemicals and asbestos, you should have your physician perform regular exams to monitor your health and catch black lung disease early if it develops.
How is pneumoconiosis treated?
As mentioned before, pneumoconiosis cannot be cured, but treatment can help you slow the progress of the disease and assist in managing its symptoms.
If you’re a smoker, the first step in your treatment is to quit smoking. Quitting will help reduce the presence of inflammation-causing irritants in your lungs.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your age and your overall health and wellbeing, treatment may include some of the following:
- Bronchodilators – these medications aim to help your airways open to assist you with your ability to breathe clearly
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – this is a therapy program that focuses on exercises, nutritional guidance and counseling to promote a better lifestyle and help your body’s ability to heal itself and breathe clearly
- Oxygen therapy – Severe cases of pneumoconiosis may require the use of supplemental oxygen at certain periods throughout the day or throughout the entire day.
Is pneumoconiosis preventable?
Prevention is important since the disease is not curable. Black lung disease is largely preventable by following appropriate safety measures and wearing proper safety equipment when working around dust, chemicals, smoke and asbestos.
Make sure to wash all clothes and areas of your body that come into contact with dust. Remember to schedule regular screenings and chest x-rays with your physician to monitor your health.
Also, if you smoke, then you need to quit smoking. Even if you have never worked in a hazardous environment, you can develop black lung disease from smoking cigarettes.
Would you like to speak with a medical professional about your symptoms of pneumoconiosis? Contact us at the Lung Health Institute to schedule a free consultation with one of our medical professionals to discuss your treatment options.