How to Know If You Have Black Lung

Caused by the inhalation of both coal dust and graphite; black lung (common name) is a type of coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP) that affects the lungs by turning them from pink (normal color) to black, and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of coal mining workers (and those who have been unlucky enough to have been exposed to either for long periods of time).

Over a long period of time (around 10 years), dust accumulates in the lungs (accumulation is in the bronchioles [small airways within the lungs]) which gradually obstructs the bronchioles and turns the lungs black. This obstruction interferes with the air intake (breathing) and the exchange of oxygen in the blood (common symptoms of the disease begin to appear).

Symptoms of black lung are as follows:

Chronic Cough – As a result of many years of coal dust build-up in the lungs, a persistent chronic cough begins to surface (the first signs that black lung is present). Both bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes), and emphysema (a smoking related disease [both respiratory problems]) can provoke the symptoms to develop much more quickly. A chronic cough is triggered by a reflex within the airways that tries to remove both mucus and foreign objects from the lungs.

Shortness of Breath – Because of a large accumulation of coal dust within the lungs; a resulting restriction to both inhaling and exhaling becomes prominent (dyspnea [shortness of breath). Sufferers have been known to express an intense tightening of the chest along with the sensation of suffocation.

Caplan Syndrome – When black lung and rheumatoid arthritis become combined: Caplan syndrome (a disease [autoimmune] caused by the body’s cells attacking the membranes of the joints]) can be experienced. Small bumps (nodules) are formed due to inflammation caused to the airways (a restriction to the airflow [breathing], symptoms similar to asthma, wheezing, and cyanosis [abnormal blue/purple discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes] occur).

Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF) When black lung has progressed significantly, the development of PMF may occur (the development of scar tissue leads to PMF). Scar tissue typically measures around 10 millimeters in diameter, and is responsible for destroying both the lung tissue and blood vessels (shortness of breath is experienced due to a reduced oxygen level entering the bloodstream).

PMF is also responsible for other complications, such as: high blood pressure in the artery where oxygenated blood is carried from the lungs to the heart (cor pulmonale right-sided heart failure is caused due to the increased pressure) – respiratory failure may also develop.

Note: Mining workers/ex-mining workers, and workers who have been exposed to either high levels of coal dust or graphite dust over long periods of time, should seek medical advise when any of the previous mentioned symptoms are present.

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