Occupational Lung Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

What is Occupational Lung Disease?

Occupational lung disease may refer to diseases that uniquely and specifically relate to different factors in the working environment of an individual. Pneumoconiosis is an example of such occupation lung diseases. In some cases occupational exposures can lead to the development of common respiratory diseases and it can also worsen already existing respiratory diseases such as lung cancerasthma and pulmonary disease.

Occupational lung disease therefore refers to the occupational disease that affects the respiratory system such as black lung disease, occupational asthma, mesothelioma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asbestosis, cystic fibrosis, emphysema and silicosis. These diseases can occur when an individual is exposed to dangerous components such as smoke, gases, dust, fumes, vapors, sprays, mist, silica and flock. Exposure to beryllium and asbestos can cause lung cancer.

What is Occupational Lung Disease?

Causes of Occupational Lung Disease

There are many causes that can lead to occupational lung disease. Some employers and employees around the world do not care about the working safety. In some countries, there are regulations to ensure that everyone is working in a clean environment. There are different things that can cause operational lung disease.

Exposure to dust in working environment is associated with numerous pulmonary and systemic illnesses. Did you know that the term pneumoconiosis is a Greek word that means dusty lungs? Well, if you did not know, now you know. Do not feel so secure working in a dusty environment without the dust musk. When dust particles enter the lungs, they cause a reaction. The reaction varies with the size of the dust particle. This is a biologic activity. There are some dusts like barium, iron and tin that does not result in the fibrogenic reactions in the lungs, although there are those types of dust particles that evoke a variety of tissue responses. These responses may include silicosis, asbestosis and coal worker disease. Particles like beryllium can cause a systemic response and induce granulomatous reaction in the lungs. After the exposure has ceased, occupational lung disease like pneumoconiosis can appear.

Exposure to asbestos is very dangerous. In most cases, exposure occurs during mining, milling and transportation. Exposure may proceed to the application level. Exposure to asbestos is more common in the construction and shipbuilding industries. Occupations like plumbing, pipe fitting and insulation of electrical work are common as far as exposure to asbestos is concerned. Exposure to asbestos can lead to a variety of lung diseases such as the pleural diseases and the pneumoconiosis asbestosis.

When an individual inhales crystalline silica, the chances of getting occupational lung disease such as silicosis are very high. People who get infected with chronic silicosis typically have been exposed to silica for more than 20 years.

People with acute and accelerated silicosis have highest incident of mycobacterium disease. Exposure to silica can also lead to the risk of developing tuberculosis.

Exposure to crystalline silica has also been associated with development of occupational lung diseases like obstructive lung disease, bronchitis and emphysema. The risks of getting these diseases are more prominent for those people with silicosis. Intensity of exposure to dust affects the development of obstructive lung diseases. Occupational Lung diseases can arise when the lungs are exposed to coal dust. Development of a coal macule arises when the tissues reacts to coal dust. Focal emphysema can form around the macule. Exposure to coal dust can also lead to the development of airflow limitation, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Occupational lung diseases such as asthma and interstitial lung disease can arise when an individual is exposed to hard metals. Hard metal is found in tools for drilling, grinding, polishing and high speed cutting of other metals.

Exposure to beryllium can lead to beryllium-induced lung disease. Beryllium is a very light metal, but has got high modulus of elasticity and a low coefficient of thermal expansion. It has high electrical conductivity, high thermal conductivity and has a high melting point and this is why it is widely used in many industries. Pure beryllium metal is also very useful in the nuclear industry as it is used as a moderator of neutrons. This proves that beryllium is very useful and hence man interacts with it more often.

However, exposure to it is very dangerous. Working with beryllium increases the risk of causing occupational lung disease such as chronic beryllium disease.

Exposure to tobacco can lead to lung cancer. Workers who are exposed to tobacco smoke have high chances of getting lung cancer.

Long term exposure to dangerous and toxic chemicals in the workplace significantly increases the risk of developing occupational lung diseases. If you have been diagnosed with any such occupational lung disease, then it is advisable to contact an experienced Workers Compensation Lawyer as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Occupational Lung Disease

There are several symptoms of occupational lung disease regardless of the cause. It should be noted that each and every individual experience the symptoms differently.

During a typical busy day, you may experience a nagging cough or a slight wheeze. It is however important to pay attention to mild symptoms. Many people may take it casually when they have trouble in breathing and associate it with getting old. These symptoms should not be ignored. They might be the first sign of a lung disease. Getting to know the early signs and symptoms of occupational lung disease can be helpful, as you will get the correct treatment at the right time.

Any cough that takes up to one month or longer is considered to be a chronic cough. When you experience this at your workplace or at home, you should take it seriously and get the right medical attention.

  • At times we experience shortness of breath, but it is not normal when the shortness of breath does not go away even after exercising, or after a little or no exertion. The feeling that it is difficult to breath is called labored or difficult breathing. This can be a warning sign that you have an occupational lung disease.
  • Chronic mucus production, which is also called sputum or phlegm is also a sign of lung problem. Excess mucus is produced when there are infections or irritants in the esophagus. Common cold can lead to excess mucus production, but when the problem lasts for more than a month, then seek medical attention. It might be a lung problem.
  • Noisy breathing also known as wheezing is also a sign of something foreign body in the lungs.
  • Coughing up blood indicates that there is bleeding in the lungs or upper respiratory tract and this signals a health problem.
  • Chronic chest pain may also indicate occupational lung disease.

Tests to Diagnose Occupational Lung Disease

First the doctors have to complete the medical history and physical examination for diagnosing occupational lung disease and then they take a chest X-ray. The results will then suggest which test has to be done next. Lung disorders can be tested by measuring the lung capacity to hold, move and exchange air. These tests only determine the general type of lung disorder, but other tests like imaging, bronchoscopy and thoracoscopy determine specific cause of a lung disorder.

Treatment for Occupational Lung Disease

In case you experience the above mentioned symptoms, you should not hesitate to visit a chest physician to diagnose occupational lung disease. Doctors have the opportunity to help their patients in their workplace, who may be at risk. Never start any treatment without the advice of a qualified doctor. The doctors will provide treatment based on the following factors:

  • The type of occupational lung disease with which the patient is affected with.
  • The age, medical history and current health of the patient.
  • The patients’ tolerance to specific therapies, medicines and procedures.

Prevention of Occupational Lung Disease

Preventing occupational lung disease is better than cure. You should ensure that you or your employees are working in a clean and safe environment. You should also avoid all the things that can cause lung disease at all cost. Remember your health is more important than the job. Teaching your coworkers about the ill effects of air borne dusts and irritants will help in preventing occupational lung disease.

Risk Factors for Occupational Lung Disease

Risk factors for occupational lung disease may include exposure to pollutants present in the occupational place such as asbestos, beryllium, tobacco smoke, indoor or outdoor air pollutants, allergens, occupational agents, diet and nutrition and post infectious chronic respiratory diseases.

Complications of Occupational Lung Disease

The following are some of the complications of occupational lung disease: Acute exacerbation, gastroesophageal reflux disease, high blood pressure in the vessels of the lungs which is known as pulmonary hypertension, low oxygen and respiratory failure. Occupational lung diseases are serious diseases and can deeply affect your quality of life by preventing you from being able to earn a living and causing financial burden. If you or your loved ones have been affected with occupational lung disease, then it is advisable to contact a worker compensation lawyer who can help you obtain the best medical care possible without having to pay out of pocket for any medical expenses.

Prognosis/Outlook for Occupational Lung Disease

The prognosis or outlook for occupational lung disease depends on the precise cause. Some cases of lung disease do not have an identifiable cause. Once you are a victim of occupational lung disease, then there will be social and economic consequences even if the exposure to the pollutants is ceased.

Lifestyle Changes for Occupational Lung Disease

Finding an occupation where there is good hygiene practice and less exposure to toxic is a great lifestyle change that the sufferer of occupational lung disease can adopt. You can also try other lifestyle changes such as eating more healthy foods for lung health including fresh fruits and vegetables. Exercises also improve the lung functioning. Avoid exposure to unnecessary toxins, quit smoking, improve indoor air quality, and supplement your health with nutritionally support respiratory health.

Coping with Occupational Lung Disease

In order to cope up with occupational lung disease, you should fight back against the insensitive comments, balance your emotional health, improve indoor air, practice breathing techniques and take time to enjoy your life.

Recovery Period/Healing Time for Occupational Lung Disease

Occupational lung disease recovery period/healing time will take different periods of time depending on it’s type, nature, the patients’ age, and the treatment.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 22, 2017

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