It is a lung condition caused by inhaling mineral dust particles.
This condition is generally seen when working in a high-risk mineral- related industry .
At first, irritating mineral dust can trigger lung inflammation, causing temporary damage to areas of the lung.
Over time, these areas can progress and form deposits of tough, fibrous tissue. This stage of pneumoconiosis is called fibrosis .
Fibrosis hardens the lungs and interferes with the lung’s normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide .
There are several different types of pneumoconiosis. In the United States, the most common types include:
- Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.
- Talc pneumoconiosis.
- Kaolin pneumoconiosis.
- Siderosis of the lung.
Symptoms of pneumoconiosis
Pneumoconiosis sometimes doesn’t cause any symptoms. When symptoms develop, they can include:
- Cough (with or without mucus).
- Shortness of breath, especially during exercise.
If pneumoconiosis causes severe pulmonary fibrosis, breathing can become extremely difficult. When this happens, the patient’s lips and nails may have a bluish tint.
In very advanced disease, there may also be signs of leg swelling caused by too much stress on the heart.
Diagnosis of pneumoconiosis
Your doctor will ask about your exposure to mineral dust, how many years you were exposed, and if you used protective clothing and equipment. Your doctor will examine you, paying special attention to your chest.
This will be followed by a chest X-ray, which will be compared to a set of standard X-rays for evaluation of pneumoconiosis.
Your doctor may order breathing tests, called lung function tests. In some patients, a more detailed chest computed tomography (CT) scan is needed. Less often, a doctor will order a test called a bronchoscopy with a lung biopsy.
In this test, a flexible tube is inserted into a lung and a small piece of lung tissue is removed for examination in a laboratory.
Pneumoconiosis causes permanent changes in the lungs. However, you can prevent it from getting worse.
Prevention of pneumoconiosis
Pneumoconiosis can almost always be prevented. To reduce your risk, you can:
Limit Work-Related Exposure to Mineral Dusts – Workers who routinely handle mineral dusts should always wear approved measures (protective equipment and clothing) to limit their exposure and avoid bringing mineral dust home on their clothing.
If a mask or respirator is used for dust protection, it must be properly fitted and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Prevent Asbestos Exposure In The Home – Check your home, especially if you own an old home, for areas with exposed insulation that contains deteriorated asbestos. Asbestos in these areas must be professionally removed or safely sealed (encapsulated).
Avoid smoking cigarettes – Smoking worsens the harmful effects of pneumoconiosis. If you smoke, ask your doctor about proven ways to quit.
Treatment of pneumoconiosis
If you have pneumoconiosis and develop breathing problems, your doctor will advise you to avoid further exposure to mineral dust. He or she may prescribe one or two medications that are inhaled to decrease inflammation in the airways and to help keep the bronchial tubes open.
If the oxygen level in your blood is below 90%, you may need to breathe extra oxygen at home.
Also, to help protect your damaged lungs from respiratory infections, your doctor will recommend flu immunization and pneumococcal shots. If you develop a respiratory infection, it may need to be treated with antibiotics.
When pneumoconiosis causes extreme breathing problems, a lung transplant is the only cure.
When to call a professional
Call your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of pneumoconiosis and have worked in a job where there is a high risk of exposure to mineral dust.
Prognosis of pneumoconiosis
The prognosis for this disease depends on the specific type of pneumoconiosis, the duration of exposure to mineral dust, the level of exposure, and whether the patient is a smoker.
In the long term, people with talcum asbestosis and pneumoconiosis are at increased risk of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the membranes that line the lungs and abdominal cavity). The risk of lung cancer is especially high in smokers with asbestosis.
Because male workers occupy most jobs that carry high risks for pneumoconiosis, most deaths from pneumoconiosis occur in men.