Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis

Symptoms of black lung disease can take years to develop. In early stages, the most common symptoms are cough, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Sometime the coughing may bring up black sputum (mucus). These symptoms may initially occur after strenuous activity, but as the disease progresses, they may become present at rest as well. If the scaring is severe, oxygen may be prevented from easily reaching the blood. This results in low blood oxygen levels which puts stress on other organs, such as the heart and brain, and can cause additional symptoms.

How Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis Is Diagnosed

There is no specific test for black lung disease. If you are concerned about your symptoms, your doctor will first want to take a detailed medical history, asking about your job history in detail to determine the likelihood of exposure. It may be a good idea to prepare the following information in advance:

  • Your symptoms and the time they started
  • Treatments given before for the symptoms and how they helped
  • The work you have done over your entire career; the length of time you spent in each job; the nature of the work you performed.
  • The products you were in contact with at work and whether or not you wore protective equipment
  • Smoking history
  • Any old medical records, including chest X-rays or CT scans

Your doctor will also want to perform a physical exam and breathing tests to measure your lungs’ ability to breathe and move oxygen. Imaging tests such as chest X-ray or CT scan may be suggested, to look for nodules and areas of swelling. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Acts requires that surveillance programs be offered to all coal miners and include breathing tests and/or chest X-rays every year or periodically to look for irregular areas.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have been exposed to coal dust or other toxic dusts and have respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath, you should consult your healthcare provider.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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