In Pneumoconiosis, lung disorders and debilitating symptoms occur as a result of particles being inhaled into the lungs during one’s occupation. They are often collectively referred to as “occupational lung diseases.” In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the potential hazards associated with certain industries, for some occupations are obviously at greater risk than others. However, with the advent of more chemicals and synthetic materials in industry, and the effect of their presence in the working atmosphere the future seems to have unlimited possibilities for more occupation-related lung (and general systemic) disorders to occur.
Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (Anthrocosis) is due to the inhalation of coal dust. This may be simple and give rise to few, if any, symptoms or it may be complicated by chronic bronchitis. Cough, copious sputum and breathlessness may occur, and these symptoms are more likely due to the underlying bronchitis that takes place. As there is no effective treatment, prevention is the important step. There is a chance that persons so exposed may run a higher than normal chance of subsequently developing tuberculosis, so X-ray examination and adequate investigation is necessary.
Silicosis is the type of pneumoconiosis which is due to the inhalation of dusts containing silica. It is likely in persons who are involved in the mining business, in areas where there is a high proportion of silica containing rock, together with the mineral that is being sought (especially gold, copper, tin, graphite and maybe coal). Quarrying in granite and slate carries a risk. Working in plants that crush or trim stone (particularly with a high quartz content), sand blasting and metal casting, working in pottery and ceramics plants, trimming of refractory bricks and boiler scaling, all carry potential risks The silica particles, once in the system, are taken up by the blood cells, to which they are very toxic.
Silicosis may develop slowly over a period of years, producing breathlessness and blood-stained sputum, and later the progressive destruction of the lungs themselves. It appears that pulmonary tuberculosis is definitely more common in patients with this disorder. X-ray diagnosis is usually definitive. There is no treatment that has any beneficial effect in reversing the disease. Efforts must therefore be preventive. In these modern times, legislation largely covers conditions for workers employed in places where potential risks exist.
Asbestosis is a relative newcomer to the industrially inhaled lung disorders, for it is only in fairly recent times that the use of asbestos has increased considerably. The minute asbestos particles in dust associated with its handling appear to be particularly toxic to the lung tissue, even though twenty to forty years could elapse before significant symptoms appear. Therefore, in the future, we may see a spate of cases of asbestosis that are currently in the silent, developmental stages. It appears that even after a person has been removed from exposure, lung changes may still progress. Asbestos occurs naturally in rock form, and this is mined in many parts of the world.
It also appears that there is an increased risk of developing both pulmonary tuberculosis and carcinoma of the lung. Carcinoma of the lung will develop eight to ten times the expected incidence, but it is reported to be rare in this pneumoconiosis when the worker is a nonsmoker, one medical authority reports. Breathlessness, a dry cough, weight loss and fatigue are the chief symptoms, and these will gradually worsen. Respiratory failure may occur with the signs of this, such as cyanosis (a blue complexion indicating inadequate oxygenation of the blood). Heart failure and pleural effusion may occur late in the disease. There is no satisfactory treatment yet devised, although a considerable amount of research is currently going on in several parts of the world in relation to the disease. Once more, prevention appears to offer the only cure, even though this is even more difficult to police, due to the diverse ways the product is handled.