Black lung

Black lung

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

A form of pneumoconiosis, common in coal miners, characterized by deposits of carbon particles in the lung.

Black lung

The main cause is the inhalation of coal dust, graphite and any other man-made carbon. It is mainly prevalent among the coal miners, and sometimes also among the workers associated with the production of graphite and carbon black. The disease is mainly caused by the silica and carbon present in the coal dust. The inhaled coal particles buildup in the lung and causes its discoloration. The accumulated coal dust gradually forms coal macule in the lung, which is nothing but a small patch of discolored skin. But eventually, this can develop into small coal lumps or nodules, which get enlarged with constant exposure to coal dust. These are generally found in pulmonary lymph nodes and connective tissues of the lungs, and cannot be removed from the body. They can ultimately block the flow of air through the air passages of the lung. Smoking is not related to this disease, though it can contribute to the further damage of the lung, and thereby aggravate the situation.

It is a deadly disease that affects a large number of coal miners. Recently, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in association with Mine Safety and Health Administration has undertaken a Mobile Health Screening Program. Under this program, mobile units will visit the mining areas of United States, and would provide free health check-up to the participants once in every five years. This is indeed a very good step in this field, and more of such endeavors are required for its prevention. Industrial bodies should also cooperate with government to ensure safety to their workers as well for improving their living standard.

Since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, average dust levels have fallen from 8.0 mg. per cubic meter to the current standard of 2.0 mg. per cubic meter. The 1969 law also set up a black lung disability benefits program to compensate coal miners who have been disabled by on-the-job dust exposure.

Despite the technology available to control the hazard, however, miners still run the risk of developing this lung disease. The risk is much lower today, however; fewer than 10% of coal miners have any x ray evidence of coal dust deposits.

The only way to prevent black lung disease is to avoid long-term exposure to coal dust. Coal mines may help prevent the condition by lowering coal dust levels and providing protective clothes to coal miners.


Symptoms of black lung disease typically take years to develop. The presence of other respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, which is inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or emphysema, a disease caused by smoking, can exacerbate symptoms. Black lung disease can cause a chronic cough. Coughing is an airway reflex triggered to remove foreign objects and excess mucus from the lungs.

The accumulation of coal dust in the lungs can restrict the inhalation and exhalation of air, resulting in shortness of breath, a symptom medically known as dyspnea. Patients often describe shortness of breath as feelings of intense chest tightening or suffocation.

Some patients with black lung disease will develop scar tissue leading to a more serious symptom known as progressive massive fibrosis. The scars are typically large, measuring inch in diameter. These large scars destroy lung tissue and blood vessels in the lungs which reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream, leading to disabling episodes of shortness of breath.

Progressive massive fibrosis can lead to complications including increased blood pressure in the pulmonary artery that carries oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart. The increase in pressure can cause cor pulmonale—right-sided heart disease. The scar tissue in the lungs can interfere with their ability to fully exhale, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the onset of respiratory failure.


The diagnosis of the disease usually begins with the occupational history of the patients, as it is basically an occupational disease. X-ray of the chest and Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) can help in detecting the occurrence and severity of the disease.


The best way to deal with the disease is preventing further inhalation of coal dust, and also wearing masks while working in the coal mines or any other occupation that involves excessive exposure to carbon.There are several U.S. laws regarding black lungand its treatment, and the government will help to pay for treatment.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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