Pneumoconiosis

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Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease that usually affects people who work in mineral related industries. Read this article to learn more about its causes, symptoms and possible treatments.

Pneumoconiosis Definition

This lung disease is generally caused by inhaling dust of minerals over long periods of time. In the initial stage of Pneumoconiosis, irritating dusts cause temporary damage to the lungs which becomes more serious with continued exposure to the same harmful dusts. Pneumoconiosis is more common among men as they are the principal workers in mineral mines and industries.

Types of Pneumoconiosis

There are various types of Pneumoconiosis depending on the dust causing the condition. Different types of this lung disease include:

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a type of Pneumoconiosis caused by a group of minerals known as Asbestos. Various fibrous minerals used for purposes such as manufacturing home insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, fireproof materials and automobile brake linings are collectively known as Asbestos. These minerals cause Pneumoconiosis in people who are exposed to Asbestos dust. Asbestos are found in underground deposits where the dust affects workers like miners, demolition workers, shipbuilders, construction workers and auto mechanics.

Silicosis

This is another type of Pneumoconiosis affecting people working with silica. Silica in the quartz form found in sand, slate, sandstone, granite and some ores generally cause this disease. Victim of most silica exposure include sandblasters, tunnel builders, miners, quarry workers, silica millers and people who make glass and ceramics. Silicosis causes progressive lung fibrosis, especially in cigarette-smokers, which significantly decreases the functioning of the affected lungs.

Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis

This type of Pneumoconiosis is caused by inhalation of carbon particles especially from graphite, coal, carbon black and lamp black. It is also known as the Black lung disease. People like graphite miners, synthetic graphite and lamp black manufacturers are generally affected by Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis. Like Silicosis, this type of Pneumoconiosis can cause fibrosis in people who have worked with coal and graphite for extended periods of time without protection.

Talc Pneumoconiosis

Talc Pneumoconiosis is caused by overexposure to talc dust. It mostly affects talk miners and millers.

Kaolin Pneumoconiosis

It is caused by inhaling kaolin or china clay which is used for making ceramics, paper, cosmetics etc.

Siderosis of the lung

It is also known as Silver Polisher’s Lung or Welder’s Lung as it is caused by inhalation of iron particles. Silver Polisher’s Lung does not usually cause any symptom; although it often makes the lungs look abnormal on an X-ray.

There are various other types of Pneumoconiosis including Bauxite fibrosis (caused by Bauxite), Berylliosis (caused by beryllium) and Byssinosis (caused by cotton). Sometimes, dusts of compounds like barium sulfate and tin oxide can also cause Pneumoconiosis.

This lung disease is sometimes classified as simple Pneumoconiosis and complicated Pneumoconiosis depending on the severity of exposure and the symptoms.

Pneumoconiosis Causes

Pneumoconiosis results from inhaling harmful mineral particles that causes serious damage to the lungs of a person. The mineral dusts cause severe inflammation by accumulating in the alveoli (air sacs) area in the lungs. It damages the lungs by turning their elastic wall into coarse scarred tissue which affects their functioning. The severity of infection and damage depends on the toxicity of the particles affecting the lungs.

Pneumoconiosis Symptoms

There are no noticeable symptoms of this disease at the initial stage. However, the patient may develop the following symptoms over time:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breadth
  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Bluish coloration of skin
  • Swelling of feet
  • Liver enlargement caused by heart failure

Pneumoconiosis Prevention

It is a preventable disease. People who regularly work with minerals should use proper personal protection equipments and clothing to reduce the risks of being affected by this condition. This significantly reduces their chances of inhaling mineral and coal particles. Removing or repairing any exposed and deteriorating asbestos area in the house also helps to prevent this disease. It also helps to quit smoking as smoking may worsen its symptoms.

Pneumoconiosis Diagnosis

Pneumoconiosis is mainly diagnosed by chest X-ray. The X-ray plate of an affected individual shows characteristic subpleural, patchy small cystic radiolucencies or bibasilar interstitial infiltrates called honeycombing. Symptoms like shortness of breath, chronic cough and chest pain also help with the diagnosis. Studying the type of particle the patient have been exposed to, the time period over which the exposure has taken place is also important for correctly diagnosing the condition.

In some cases a detailed computed tomography scan (CT scan) of the chest is required. Bronchoscopy with lung biopsy is sometimes done.

Pneumoconiosis Treatment

There are no specific medications that can completely cure this lung disease. However, there are various ways of controlling both the simple and complicated Pneumoconiosis by reducing the severity of the symptoms. It is always advisable to keep away from further exposure to the harmful mineral dusts as it may worsen the condition. There are many medicines that lessen the lung inflammation by keeping the bronchial tubes open. Treatment options for early stages of this disease include:

  • Antibiotics for treating bronchitis
  • Bronchodilator medications for breathing trouble
  • Inhaled corticosteroid medications
  • Antibiotics for respiratory infections

The patient should be provided with additional oxygen if the oxygen level in the blood is lower than 90%. Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are sometimes recommended to protect the damaged lungs from various respiratory infections. The patient may experience extreme breathing difficulties in advanced stages of Pneumoconiosis. Transplantation of the damaged lung is the only solution in such cases.

Pneumoconiosis Prognosis

The outcome of the treatment depends on the type of Pneumoconiosis and level and time length of the mineral exposure. Proper treatment along with a healthy lifestyle can successfully control the symptoms, making it possible for the patient to have a normal life.

In case of advanced stages of Pneumoconiosis, the affected individual runs a risk of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma (cancer affecting the membranes that surround the abdominal cavity and lungs). It may even cause disability or death of the patient in some rare instances. Smoking habits of the patient also affects the prognosis, increasing the risk of lung cancer.

Pneumoconiosis Life Expectancy

Pneumoconiosis does not turn into a life threatening condition if treated properly at the initial stage. However, it can cause incurable diseases like lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma if left untreated.

Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease which does not pose any threats to the patient’s life unless left untreated. One can easily avoid this preventable disease by using proper personal protection gears while working with harmful minerals and mineral compounds.

References:

http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/9339/31045.html

http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/coal-workers-pneumoconiosis/overview.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001187/

http://www.pneumoconiosis.org.uk/

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