Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis

Anyone working with or around coal could be at risk of developing coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. It can lie dormant for many years before symptoms develop. While there is currently no cure for the disease, medications are being trialled and there are a range of management strategies that may help to slow progression and can help you to live well.

What is Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis?

Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (CWP) is an occupational lung disease caused by inhaling coal dust, generally over long periods of time. Inhaling this dust causes a reaction in the lungs, including inflammation, which can lead to scar tissue (fibrosis) or small masses of tissue (nodules) forming.

In instances of heavy coal dust exposure, CWP may develop into Progressive Massive Fibrosis, where there are large areas of scar tissue in the lungs.

Symptoms

Many people with CWP have no symptoms, particularly in early stages of disease. Generally, CWP takes many years to develop – in most cases, it may take 10 to 15 years or more. When symptoms do present, they may include:

Dry or productive cough (sputum may be black)

Shortness of breath

Chest tightness

Diagnosis

To diagnosis CWP, it’s important to discuss your symptoms and occupational history with your doctor. In addition to the initial discussions with your GP and specialist doctor, you are also likely to undergo a series of tests to diagnosis CWP, which may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Lung-function (breathing) tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • High-resolution CT scan (HRCT)
  • Arterial blood gas analysis
  • Lung biopsy

Management

Although there is currently no cure for CWP, there are management strategies that may slow progression and help reduce symptoms, as well as some medications in clinical trial phase.

Medication

Options include inhaled medications and newer treatments such as anti-fibrotic agents that are now being trialed. They are intended to slow the rate of progression of the disease.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy may be prescribed by your doctor if you have low blood oxygen levels. Read more about oxygen therapy to manage lung conditions here.
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Lung transplantation

Lung transplantation may be considered in very severe cases of CWP. If you are suitable for lung transplantation, your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the surgery.
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