What is black lung?
Black lung is an environmental lung disease Overview of Environmental Lung Diseases Environmental lung diseases are illnesses caused by harmful particles, mists, vapors, or gases in the air that you breathe. Some people get ill from the air outside (air pollution-related illness)... read more caused by breathing in a lot of coal dust over many years.
Black lung happens mainly in coal miners and others who work with coal
Your lungs look black inside because of the coal dust
You may have no symptoms at first but develop a cough and severe breathing problems if the disease gets worse
Doctors use chest x-rays Plain X-Rays A plain x-ray is an imaging test that takes a picture of the inside of your body. It uses a low dose of x-ray radiation. X-rays show body parts according to how dense (solid) they are. Doctors... read more and CT scans Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more to diagnose black lung
Doctors treat black lung with oxygen and medicines to make breathing easier
There are two types of black lung disease:
Simple black lung
Complicated black lung, also called progressive massive fibrosis
Simple black lung disease is caused by coal dust collecting in the small airways in your lungs. Most people with simple black lung disease do not have any symptoms.
Some people with simple black lung get worse and develop complicated black lung. This causes large scars in your lungs and makes it very hard to breathe.
What causes black lung?
Black lung is caused by breathing in coal dust over a long period of time (usually more than 10 years).
What are the symptoms of black lung?
Simple black lung usually has no symptoms. However, many people with this disease often have another lung disease, such as bronchitis Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) COPD is a disease in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It's hard to push air out of your lungs. Difficulty pushing air out is called chronic airflow obstruction. Smoking cigarettes is... read more or emphysema Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) COPD is a disease in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It's hard to push air out of your lungs. Difficulty pushing air out is called chronic airflow obstruction. Smoking cigarettes is... read more (especially smokers). Those lung diseases cause people to cough and be short of breath.
Complicated black lung causes severe symptoms such as:
Coughing and coughing up black mucus
Very severe shortness of breath
Heart failure Heart Failure Your heart pumps blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body. Heart failure is when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped... read more (when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should)
How can doctors tell if I have black lung?
If you've been exposed to coal dust, doctors will diagnose black lung using:
How can I prevent black lung?
Prevention is important because there's no cure for black lung. Workplaces can help prevent black lung by preventing too much coal dust at the work site. They can use:
Face masks for workers
If you're a coal worker, you can do these things to help slow down and monitor the disease:
Have a chest x-ray each year
Move to a job that has less coal dust
Get a pneumonia Pneumococcal Vaccine Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococci). Pneumococcal infections include ear infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, bloodstream... read more and flu vaccine Influenza Vaccine The influenza virus vaccine helps protect against influenza. Two types of influenza virus, type A and type B, regularly cause seasonal epidemics of influenza in the United States. There are... read more
How do doctors treat black lung?
There's no treatment for the disease, but doctors can help lessen symptoms. To treat shortness of breath, doctors may prescribe:
Oxygen to make breathing easier
Pulmonary rehabilitation (a program to help you learn how to breathe with long-term lung disease)
Medicines to keep your airways open and free of mucus
Patients with complicated black lung may need a lung transplant. With a transplant, your failing lung is removed and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.