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Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling dust. It is most commonly seen among coal workers and is often referred to as Black Lung Disease. Along with coal workers, people exposed to asbestos or silica dust are also at risk of pneumoconiosis. The disease typically develops from workplace exposures, and it's rarely seen from general environmental exposure.

Symptoms of Pneumoconiosis

When pneumoconiosis occurs, dust that has collected in the lungs for several years gradually begins to cause problems. The lungs harden, air sacs become inflamed and breathing becomes difficult. People with pneumoconiosis will develop a chronic cough and shortness of breath. Over time, pneumoconiosis can lead to complications like lung cancer, lung failure, tuberculosis and heart failure.

Prevention and Treatment

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict guidelines for employers to minimize the health risks related to pneumoconiosis. For coal workers and other workers exposed to hazardous dust, the primary safety guideline is to wear appropriate masks and filters. Other steps that can prevent pneumoconiosis include bathing immediately after contact with coal dust, and changing clothes right after dust exposure. In addition, people who work in these environments should not eat, drink, smoke or take medications in dusty areas.

There is no cure for pneumoconiosis once it occurs. Doctors can treat the chronic cough and shortness of breath that can accompany the disease in order to improve quality of life and prevent the possibility of complications from the disease. Treatments can include oxygen and medication known as bronchodilators, which help open up the lungs.

SOURCES: American Lung Association; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Johns Hopkins Medicine

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