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Pneumoconiosis - Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Sep 21, 2022 and last reviewed on Dec 14, 2022   -  4 min read


Pneumoconiosis is the inflammation produced in the lungs by dust particles. Read the article below to learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.


Pneumoconiosis is a type of interstitial lung disease. Any disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the lung tissue is called interstitial lung disease. The dust particles produced in the workplace enter the airways while breathing. It damages the windpipe (trachea), airways (bronchi), and alveoli in the lungs. This condition is called pneumoconiosis. This condition is irreversible because it produces scars on the lungs. Since pneumoconiosis occurs in the workplace, the disease is also called occupational lung disease.

What Are the Various Types of Pneumoconiosis?

The two major types of pneumoconiosis are simple and complicated pneumoconiosis.

  • Simple Pneumoconiosis - Short-term exposure to dust particles produces simple pneumoconiosis. The damage to the lung tissue is minimal. Nodules are present in the deeper tissue layers of the lungs. The growth of abnormal tissue measuring about a centimeter is called nodules.

  • Complicated Pneumoconiosis - This type of pneumoconiosis is also known as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). As the name implies, the deposition of more fibers in the lungs causes fibrosis. This disease is life-threatening as it produces massive scars on the lungs and disrupts the blood vessels in the lungs.

The other types of pneumoconiosis are classified based on the type of dust particles. They are as follows:

  • Miner's Lung: This lung disease is also known as black lung disease. It is the most common type of pneumoconiosis. At high temperatures, the coal emits smoke with dust particles. Inhalation of the dust particles from coal is the major cause of black lung disease. People working in gold mines and coal industries are affected by miners' lungs or coal worker pneumoconiosis (CWP).

  • Brown Lungs: The fibers like cotton and sugarcane emit dust during the production of raw materials. It irritates the mucosal lining of the respiratory system. As the days progress, the dust particles accumulate in the lungs and produce inflammation. It obstructs the airways and results in shortness of breath.

  • Pneumoconiosis Due to Chemicals: People working in industries manufacturing chemicals like silica and asbestos are affected by lung diseases. The airborne fibers reach the small air sacs called alveoli and rupture the mucosal linings. At high levels, the fibers get deposited in the lungs and produce scarring in the lung tissue. This makes the lungs stiffer. Eventually, the expansion and contraction of the lungs are diminished. The difficulty in breathing increases due to the stiff lungs.

  • Popcorn Lungs: The major cause of popcorn lung is the diacetyl compound. It is a flavoring agent used in popcorn to give a butter taste. It is also used in vaping (e-cigarettes) as an additive in liquids. Heating the liquid in e-cigarettes emits the hazardous chemical diacetyl. The diacetyl irritates the lung tissue and causes popcorn lungs.

What Are the Symptoms of Pneumoconiosis?

A simple type of pneumoconiosis shows no clinical symptoms. Mild to moderate symptoms are present in complicated pneumoconiosis. They are as follows:

  • Chronic Cough - The deposition of foreign dust particles in the upper respiratory tract produces a dry cough for a longer period.

  • Mucus - As the respiratory disease progresses, the lungs produce mucus. During coughing, the phlegm is expelled from the throat.

  • Breathing Difficulty - The deposition of dust particles obstructs the tiny sacs called alveoli. Eventually, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and the body is affected. It causes shortness of breath.

What Are the Risk Factors for Pneumoconiosis?

Direct contact or inhalation of the dust particles increases the risk of pneumoconiosis.

  • Smoking - Smoking aggravates lung disease. The smoke irritates the scar tissue in the lungs.

  • Long-Term Exposure - Exposure to asbestos for a longer period causes fluid accumulation in the cavity surrounding the lungs. This condition results in pleural effusion.

  • Second-Hand Exposure - People working in mines, railways, chemical industries, constructions, and shipyards are at high risk for pneumoconiosis. The dust particles are exposed to their family members through their clothes or things.

  • Pre-existing Diseases - Pre-existing lung diseases like cardiac failure, respiratory failure, and lung cancer are more prone to pneumoconiosis. The person affected by pneumoconiosis is at a higher risk for stroke.

How Is Pneumoconiosis Diagnosed?

  • X-Rays - The nodules in the lungs appear as a round mass in the X-rays. They are thickened and appear as dark structures in the X-rays. People working in mines are advised to take X-rays once in five years to figure out the disease.

  • CT Scan - Computed tomography (CT scan) gives the pictorial representation of lungs in cross-section. Any thickened mass or abnormal growth or nodules can be detected using a CT scan.

  • Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) - A pulmonary function test is necessary to check the respiratory mechanism. The chemicals irritate the lungs. Medical professionals use pulmonary function tests to diagnose the progress of the disease or how well the lungs respond to the treatment.

  • Biopsy - Biopsy is used as a confirmatory test for pneumoconiosis if all the above test results are positive. A small camera is used to visualize the airways and remove the tissue for biopsy. The doctor interprets the lab results in a week.

What Are the Treatment Methods for Pneumoconiosis?

The alveoli in the lungs can filter the dust particles, but working in the same place filled with dust particles for years damages the functioning of the lungs. So, alveoli cannot get rid of hazardous dust particles, and it results in pneumoconiosis. Although there is no cure, few treatment methods are available to ease breathing. They are as follows:

  • Bronchodilators - The doctors prescribe Bronchodilators to relax the respiratory muscles. It is also useful to expel mucus from the airways. Bronchodilators enhance the movement of respiratory muscles during inhalation and exhalation.

  • Corticosteroids - Corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation in the airways and lungs. The ability to contract and relax in the stiff lungs is diminished due to fibrosis. Steroids are used to open the air passages for gas exchange.

  • Oxygen Therapy - The oxygen-carrying capacity is reduced in pneumoconiosis. Some patients require artificial oxygen supply as respiratory support. So oxygen is delivered to the lungs through the mask.


Try to wear a mask, protective cloth, and preventative measures like gloves and glasses in the workplace to prevent dust from entering the lungs. To avoid accidental breathing, wash the clothes and bathe daily after work. Regular physical examination is a must for people working in the mines and chemical industries. Do regular breathing exercises for the proper functioning of the lungs. The person affected by interstitial lung disease must avoid smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Can We Prevent Pneumoconiosis?

The doctor can prevent pneumoconiosis by wearing respiratory masks and regularly washing the exposed skin. It can also be controlled by washing hands before meals and before taking medications. Also, removing dust particles from the clothes and avoiding smoking can be necessary measures to prevent pneumoconiosis.


Is Pneumonia a Type of Pneumoconiosis?

Pneumoconiosis patients often develop pneumonia, which is one of the significant complications of this type of disease. Pneumonia can be life-threatening for a person and, thus, require immediate hospitalization. It is also one of the important causes of death in pneumoconiosis patients.


What Are the Complications of Pneumoconiosis?

The complications associated with pneumoconiosis include:
- Pneumothorax.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
- Autoimmune disease.
- Tuberculosis.
- Malignancy.
- Anthracofibrosis.
- Chronic Interstitial pneumonia.
- Pleural disease.
- Hemoptysis.


Is Pneumoconiosis a Type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)?

Pneumoconiosis can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Moreover, COPD can be a significant complication associated with pneumoconiosis disease. Therefore, pneumoconiosis can cause damage to the lungs and develop any kind of lung disease caused by dust particles.


Can Pneumoconiosis Affect the Heart?

Right-side heart failure is one of the significant complications associated with pneumoconiosis disease. In addition, an increase in particulate matter in the body due to dust exposure can cause acute cardiovascular illness. This usually occurs after one to two hours of dust exposure.


Does Smoking Cause Pneumoconiosis?

Smoking is the primary risk factor that can cause lung diseases and aggravate existing ones. Also, smoke can irritate the scar tissues of the lungs. Therefore, smoking can be associated with pneumoconiosis as it may increase the disease risk.


Is Pneumoconiosis Obstructive or Restrictive Pulmonary Disorder?

Pneumoconiosis is mainly a restrictive pulmonary disorder of the lungs. The disease, however, may sometimes occur without any measurable lung impairment. Therefore, the prognosis depends on the severity and extent of the lung condition, and a person may not show symptoms or die within a few months or years.


Can Dust Particles Damage the Lungs?

Dust particles can damage the lungs by getting accumulated in the lung tissues. The severity of the disease caused by dust particles mainly depends on the type of dust particles inhaled by a person. For example, an allergic reaction to dust can cause hypersensitivity to pneumonitis.


What Is the Best Medication for Lung Infection?

Lung infections can be treated with various antibiotics given to a patient intravenously and orally. These antibiotics include:
- Levofloxacin.
- Azithromycin.
- Amoxicillin.
- Clarithromycin.


What Can Cause Damage to the Lungs?

Lung damage can occur due to the following factors:
- Air pollution.
- Smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
- Asbestos.
- Radon gas (can cause lung cancer).
- Industrial or chemical waste exposure.


Does Lung Inflammation Go Away?

Lung inflammation can be treated with medications, but the lungs' scarring cannot be cured and is usually permanent. Corticosteroids mainly help reduce lung inflammation by suppressing the immune system.


Does Coughing Clear the Lungs?

Coughing helps to remove the irritants from the airway passage and prevent them from entering the lungs. In addition, occasional coughing is beneficial for the lungs to restrict dust and mucus into the airway. Sometimes, doctors recommend that a person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder perform coughing exercises to clear the lungs.


How Can We Check the Lungs at Home?

A person can check the lungs at home with the help of a peak flow meter device. First, it helps to check the strength of the breath. Then, the lungs are checked by breathing air into one end of the peak flow meter, and the device shows the reading on the scale in liters per minute.


Can Oxygen Therapy Heal Lungs?

Oxygen therapy given to a person for lung diseases does not heal the lungs of a person. The treatment only improves the organ function and symptoms of the disease. In some cases of acute lung inflammation, oxygen therapy given to treat the illness has worsened the condition of a person.


Is Sleeping With Oxygen Good for a Person?

People with low oxygen levels (less than 94 %) should use oxygen therapy during the day and all night during sleep. Oxygen therapy can treat the condition of a person with breathing conditions such as sleep apnea. The disease can be life-threatening; therefore, a person may require an oxygen concentrator while sleeping.

Last reviewed at:
14 Dec 2022  -  4 min read




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