Definition

Coal worker's pneumoconiosis is a lung disease that results from breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or man-made carbon over a long time.

Alternative Names

Black lung disease; Pneumoconiosis; Anthrosilicosis

Causes

Coal worker's pneumoconiosis occurs in two forms: simple and complicated (also called progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF).

Your risk of developing coal worker's pneumoconiosis depends on how long you have been around coal dust. Most people with this disease are older than 50. Smoking does not increase your risk of developing this disease, but it may have an added harmful effect on the lungs.

If coal worker's pneumoconiosis occurs with rheumatoid arthritis, it is called Caplan syndrome.

Symptoms

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up of black sputum

Exams and Tests

The doctor will do a physical exam and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. A chest x-ray or chest CT scan will be performed. You will also likely need lung function tests.

Treatment

Treatment may include any of the following, depending on how severe your symptoms are:

  • Medicines to keep the airways open and reduce mucus
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation to help you learn ways to breathe better
  • Oxygen therapy
You should also avoid further exposure to coal dust.

Support Groups

Ask your health care provider about Black Lung Clinics in your area. Information can be found at the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics website: blacklungcoalition.org/clinics.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outcome for the simple form is usually good. It rarely causes disability or death. The complicated form may cause shortness of breath that worsens over time.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart)
  • Respiratory failure

When to Contact a Medical Professional


Prevention

Wear a protective mask when working around coal, graphite, or man-made carbon. Companies should enforce the maximum permitted dust levels. Avoid smoking.

References

Cowie RL, Becklake MR. Pneumoconioses. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 73.

Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 93.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 6/22/2015
  • Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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