What are occupational lung diseases?
These diseases vary greatly in their nature, depending on the hazardous agent and protective measures implemented to reduce or manage exposure. They may be acute or chronic, malignant or non-malignant, or infectious.
The full scale and impact of occupational lung diseases in Australia is still unknown, although the numbers are increasing. The significant growing cases of silicosis and Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) over the last 15 years is particularly concerning.
Types of occupational lung diseases
There are many different occupational lung diseases. Common types include:
- Pneumoconiosis, which includes the following:
- Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
- Work-related asthma
- Occupational lung infections.
They are caused by a wide range of hazardous agents, including but not limited to dusts, fibres, fumes and gases.
Depending on the type of hazardous agent a patient is exposed to, symptoms may develop immediately or present months, years or decades after exposure. With many occupational lung diseases, symptoms may only present long after exposure to the hazardous agent has stopped, or even after retirement from the workforce.
Symptoms of occupational lung diseases
Depending on the type of occupational lung disease, symptoms will vary. Some patients may even be asymptomatic. Generally, symptoms are vague and characteristic of other lung diseases. Common symptoms of occupational lung diseases include:
Shortness of breath – after activity or while sitting / at rest
Any patients with known exposure to occupational hazards and experiencing any of the above symptoms should be investigated immediately.
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Key organisations for health professionals
- Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ)
- Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
- Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM)
- The Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine Inc (ANZSOM)
- Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH)
- Australian Institute of Health and Safety (AIHS)
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)