Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) is a lung disease that results from breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or man-made carbon over a long time.
CWP is also known as black lung disease.
CWP occurs in two forms: simple and complicated (also called progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF).
Your risk for developing CWP depends on how long you have been around coal dust. Most people with this disease are older than 50. Smoking does not increase your risk for developing this disease, but it may have an added harmful effect on the lungs.
Symptoms of CWP include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up of black sputum
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms.
Tests that may be done include:
Treatment may include any of the following, depending on how severe your symptoms are:
- Medicines to keep the airways open and reduce mucus
- Pulmonary rehabilitation to help you learn ways to breathe better
- Oxygen therapy
Ask your provider about Black Lung Clinics in your area. Information can be found at the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics website: blacklungcoalition.org/clinics.
Outcome for the simple form is usually good. It rarely causes disability or death. The complicated form may cause shortness of breath that worsens over time.
Complications may include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart)
- Respiratory failure
Call your provider right away if you develop a cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other signs of a lung infection, especially if you think you have the flu. Since your lungs are already damaged, it’s very important to have the infection treated right away. This will prevent breathing problems from becoming severe, as well as further damage to your lungs.
Wear a protective mask when working around coal, graphite, or man-made carbon. Companies should enforce the maximum permitted dust levels. Avoid smoking.
Cowie RL, Becklake MR. Pneumoconioses. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 73.
Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 93.