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Black lung disease

Black lung disease is a layman term used for coal workers' Pneumoconiosis or CWP. It is an occupational lung disease normally developed by mine workers who are continuously exposed to coal dust. Over a period of few years, the coal dust starts to accumulate in the lungs and turns them black instead of healthy pink. That is why the condition is known as black lung disease.


Our lungs are not capable of expelling the dust and that leads to scar tissues in the organ. When the disease progresses, simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis may develop into Progressive Massive Fibrosis or PMF. PMF is fatal as it hardens the lung and eventually leads to respiratory failure. Unfortunately there is no cure for black lung disease in its advanced form. However if the condition is caught early, one can lead asymptomatic and normal life by adopting few preventive measures. Black lung disease is said to affect workers over age 50 and those who have at least a 10 years of continuous exposure to coal dust.


Symptoms of Black Lung Disease

Simple form of black lung disease may not produce any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses one may develop the following symptoms:


  • Shortness of breath
  • Obstruction of airway
  • Severe cough with mucus

Diagnosis of black lung disease

As a first step towards diagnosis, doctor takes note of the history of the patient, nature of the working environment and other risk factors during the clinical trials. Chest x-rays and pulmonary function test are the standard diagnostic tools used to diagnose black lungs. If the X-rays show up black spots, chest CT may be ordered to confirm the condition.


Treatment of black lung disease

There is no specific treatment available for black lung disease. Symptomatic treatment is offered to the patient to relieve him of the discomfort. Further progress of the disease can be curtailed by avoiding exposure to the dust. As the black lung disease progresses, it forms into progressive massive fibrosis and becomes untreatable.


Prevention of black lung disease

The only way to handle the black lung disease is to prevent it. Most countries have implemented coal dust regulation acts and have laid down safety standards to prevent this debilitating disease. Some of the preventive measures are mentioned below:

1. Masks may be provided to the workers to control the dust inhalation.
2. Adequate ventilation should be provided in the mines.
3. Regular health check up of workers should be conducted periodically to test for respiratory function.
4. Effective Engineering controls must be placed to check the coal dust. Currently technically advanced dust suppression systems are available to control fine airborne coal particles.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: December 12, 2017