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Black Lung Disease - Lung Docs

Are You at Risk for Black Lung Disease?

Are You at Risk for Black Lung Disease?

Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP) — better known as Black Lung Disease — can develop when coal dust is inhaled over a long period of time. Roughly 16% of coal miners will develop Black Lung Disease, including those in our region of the country.


When coal dust is inhaled, the particles can travel through your airways all the way into the alveoli (air sacs) that are deep inside your lungs. After the dust particles settle in your lungs, your lung tissue may try to get rid of the particles, causing swelling as your body tries to fight the foreign particles. In some cases, the swelling can be severe enough to cause scar tissue to form, impairing your ability to breathe.



There is no single test for Black Lung Disease, and most people who have it don’t have any noticeable symptoms until long after their initial exposure to coal dust. When their symptoms do finally start to appear — which can take several years — they are typically in the form of a cough, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. The cough can also be accompanied by black mucus.


Initially, you may only experience the symptoms after strenuous activity, but as the disease progresses, your symptoms will become more pronounced at all times. As your lungs become more scarred, oxygen will have difficulty reaching your bloodstream, which will put stress on your other organs, including your heart and brain.


Treatment Options

If you have black lung disease, you should expect to have regular visits with your doctor. You will likely require regular testing, such as a lung function test or chest X-rays, to monitor your disease closely, as well as check for lung cancer.


While there is no treatment that can reverse the damage done by coal dust, there are steps you can take to slow down the progression of the disease, relieve your symptoms, and improve your quality — and length — of life. 


For starters, it is crucial to avoid exposing your lungs to other irritants, like cigarette smoke. If you smoke, your doctor will urge you to quit.


Depending on the severity of your case, your doctor may also prescribe medication and breathing treatments to decrease inflammation and help reopen your airways. He will likely also recommend an exercise program designed specifically for patients with chronic pulmonary conditions. 


In addition, your doctor will prescribe supplemental oxygen to help you get more air into your lungs when needed. Many patients only need oxygen initially when exercising. Others need it at all times. 


If your case is among the most severe, you may need to pursue a lung transplant.


If you have been exposed to coal dust and have experienced coughing or shortness of breath, consult a physician. If you don’t have one, the Lung Docs can help. Call 423-710-3864 today to schedule an appointment. 


SOURCES: American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cleveland Clinic

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