Pneumoconiosis is any of a group of lung diseases that are caused by the inhalation of certain mineral dusts. Dust particles of less than 0.005 mm across can reach the air sacs in the lungs (see alveolus, pulmonary); they may accumulate and cause thickening and scarring. As a result, the lungs may become less efficient at supplying oxygen to the blood.
Types and causes
The main types of pneumoconiosis are asbestosis (see asbestos-related diseases), coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, and silicosis, caused by silica dust. These diseases primarily affect workers over 50 years of age. However, the incidence is falling due to better preventive measures.
Symptoms and complications
The main symptom of pneumoconiosis is shortness of breath. In severe cases, cor pulmonale (right-sided heart failure due to lung damage) or emphysema (destruction of the air sacs in the lungs) may develop. The risk of tuberculosis is increased in coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and silicosis; the risk of lung cancer is increased in asbestosis. Smoking further increases the risk.
Diagnosis and treatment
Pneumoconiosis is often detected by a chest X-ray before symptoms develop. Diagnosis is also based on a history of exposure to dusts, medical examination, and pulmonary function tests. There is no treatment for the condition apart from treating any complications. Further exposure to any dust must be avoided.