Coal miners are more prone to develop black lung disease due to the long-term exposure to coal dust. In this disease, coal dust gathers in the lung, and causes lung disorders and discoloration. Find out more about this disease, and its causes and symptoms, through this HealthHearty write-up.
Black lung disease, commonly known as the ‘coal worker’s pneumoconiosis’, is a disease caused by the prolonged exposure to coal dust, which gradually accumulates in the lung. It is a type of pneumoconiosis, a chronic respiratory disease.
Pneumoconiosis is generally of three types – silicosis, asbestosis, and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis or black lung disease. Silicosis is caused by the accumulation of silica in the lungs, while asbestosis is caused by the accumulation of asbestos. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis causes black pigmentation of the lung due to the deposition of coal dust.
Facts About Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis
This disease is mainly caused by the inhalation of coal dust, graphite, and any other man-made carbon. This disease is prevalent among coal miners. Sometimes, the workers associated with the production of graphite and carbon black can also suffer from this condition. It is mainly caused by the silica and carbon present in coal dust. The inhaled coal particles build up in the lung and causes its discoloration.
The accumulated coal dust gradually forms coal macule in the lung, which is nothing but a small patch of discolored skin. But eventually, this condition can cause the development of small coal lumps or nodules, which can get enlarged with constant exposure to coal dust. Such nodules are usually found in the pulmonary lymph nodes and connective tissues of the lungs. They can eventually block the flow of air through the air passages of the lung. Smoking is not related to this disease, though it can damage the lung, and aggravate the condition.
This condition usually produces symptoms like shortness of breath, and chronic cough. This disease can obstruct the air passages. But sometimes, an affected individual may not exhibit any signs or symptoms. Shortness of breath is not always a symptom of lung disease, as it can be experienced by people after performing an exercise or any other strenuous activity as well.
Black lung disease can be classified into two forms – the simple or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). In the initial stage of the disease, an affected individual may not experience any major discomfort, and the symptoms like cough or difficulty in breathing may or may not be present. But gradually, many complications can develop that can cause the enlargement of the right side of the heart. This can cause right-sided heart failure.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Physicians usually diagnose the disease by evaluating the occupational history of the patient, as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis is basically an occupational disease. An X-ray of the chest, and pulmonary or lung function test can help confirm the disease and detect its severity.
This lung disease cannot be cured. However, there are a few treatment options that can alleviate the symptoms and the complications. For preventing the complications associated with the disease, it is important to prevent further inhalation of coal dust by wearing protective masks while working in coal mines or industries where one is likely to get exposed to carbon.
Almost 14,000 coal miners died in the United States during 1994 to 2004, i.e, in a span of just 10 years due to this lung disease. Recently, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in association with Mine Safety and Health Administration has undertaken a Mobile Health Screening Program. Under this program, mobile units would visit the mining areas of the United States, and provide free health check-ups once in every five years. This is indeed a very good step, but more such measures are required for preventing black lung disease. The industrial enterprises need to cooperate with the government to protect their workers from occupational diseases.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.