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Black Lung Disease

Condition Basics

What is black lung disease?

Black lung disease is a common name for a lung disease that develops from inhaling coal dust. This name comes from the fact that those with the disease have lungs that look black instead of pink. It is a type of pneumoconiosis called coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP). There are two forms: simple CWP and complicated CWP, which also involves progressive massive fibrosis (PMF).

The inhalation and accumulation of coal dust into the lungs increases the risk of developing chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). How severe black lung disease is depends on the type of coal dust, how much dust was in the air, and how long you have been exposed to it.

What causes it?

The inhalation and accumulation of coal dust causes black lung disease. This stems from working in a coal mine, doing coal trimming (loading and stowing coal for storage), mining or milling graphite, and manufacturing carbon electrodes (used in certain types of large furnaces) and carbon black (a compound used in many items, such as tires and other rubber goods). Because black lung disease is a reaction to accumulated dust in the lungs, it may appear and get worse during your exposure to the dust or after your exposure has ceased.

What are the symptoms?

Many people don't have symptoms. People with black lung disease may get symptoms of progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). These may include a cough, sputum (mucus), and shortness of breath.

How is it diagnosed?

Black lung disease is diagnosed through getting a person's work history and doing a chest X-ray or CT scan. Lung function tests may be used to determine how badly the lungs are damaged.

A person's work history is very important to the diagnosis of black lung disease. If a person has not been exposed to coal dust, they cannot have the disease. The work history should include not only recent and past full-time employment, but also summer jobs, student jobs, military history, and short-term jobs.

How is black lung disease treated?

There is no cure for black lung disease, although problems caused by it can be treated. You may take medicines and have treatments to help your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

How can you prevent it?

Black lung disease may be prevented by controlling coal dust and having good ventilation in the workplace.


Current as of: October 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.


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