What is Pneumoconiosis?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease caused by the inhalation of various types of industrial dust. The dust causes inflammation of the lungs and gradually damages the lungs over time. The damage, in turn, causes fibrosis, a condition where the lungs begin to stiffen. When this occurs, it becomes difficult for a person to breathe easily.

This respiratory disease sometimes does not cause obvious symptoms. When symptoms develop, they include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. If a person suffers from severe fibrosis, he or she struggles to breathe. Fingernails and lips may turn blue, and the legs may swell. It often takes at least 10 years of exposure to industrial dust particles before symptoms become noticeable.

There are several types of pneumoconiosis that affect people living in the U.S. Among them are coal worker's pneumoconiosis, asbestosis, silicosis, siderosis of the lung, talc pneumoconiosis, and kaolin pneumoconiosis. Each form of the disease can cause serious health concerns.


Coal worker's pneumoconiosis is caused by inhaling coal dust, graphite, carbon black, or lamp black. People who frequently work with this type of dust, such as coal miners, contract this disease if they do not wear protective equipment. Asbestosis is a form of the disease that often affects construction workers, auto mechanics, and other people who work with asbestos. People who live or work in old buildings that were constructed with asbestos can contract this form of the disease. It may often take about 20 years before symptoms become noticeable.

Silicosis is often diagnosed in people who work with a substance called silica. Miners, sandblasters, quarry workers, silica millers, and those who make glass or ceramic will often suffer from silicosis. Siderosis of the lung is caused by the inhalation of iron particles. There are usually no symptoms present with siderosis of the lung.

Talc pneumoconiosis is caused by exposure to talc dust. Kaolin pneumoconiosis results from the inhalation of kaolin. This a substance used to make medication, paper, cosmetics, ceramics, and toothpaste.

If a person has worked in a job where he or she has experienced prolonged exposure to industrial dust particles, it's important that he or she contacts a doctor. First, a physician will advise the patient to avoid further exposure to the industrial dust. The physician may also prescribe medications designed to open the bronchial tubes in order for the patient to breathe more easily.

Oxygen treatment, immunizations, and antibiotics are other methods a physician may use to treat a patient suspected of suffering from this particular respiratory disease. Those with severe breathing difficulties may require lung transplants. If the condition is left untreated, lung cancer may result. Cancer of the membranes which line the abdominal cavity and lungs can also occur.


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