What Is Black Lung Disease?

When it comes to black lung disease, here’s the good news: Most people don’t have to worry about it. It isn’t genetic and it isn’t contagious. But the millions of people who work (or used to work) in coal mines around the world may be at risk.

Causes

Black lung disease is considered a job-related illness. You get it when you inhale coal dust over a long period of time. Because it mainly affects coal miners, it’s also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).

As you breathe in coal dust, particles settle into your airways and lungs. After they land, healthy lung tissue may try to get rid of them.

As your immune system tries to fight and remove the particles, you can get inflammation. Over time, the inflammation can cause scarring, which is also known as fibrosis.

The extent of the disease depends on how much dust has been inhaled and for how long.

There are two types of black lung disease: simple and complicated. Simple CWP means the lung has spots or scar tissue from the dust particles. Complicated CWP is called progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). People with PMF have a lot of scarring on their lungs.

Symptoms

Just because you work in the coal industry doesn’t mean you’ll get black lung disease. Estimates say around 16% of coal miners in the United States eventually may have lung issues from coal dust.

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