Occupational interstitial lung diseases

This page is about pneumoconiosis, which is a group of lung diseases caused by inhaling harmful dusts in the workplace. These are known as occupational interstitial lung diseases.

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What is pneumoconiosis?

Pneumoconiosis is a term for a group of lung diseases caused by breathing in specific dusts in your workplace. They get lodged inside your lungs and cause scarring.

The most common type is coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, caused by breathing in coal dust. Other forms are silicosis, caused by exposure to silica dust, and asbestosis, caused by breathing in asbestos. Although they are types of pneumoconiosis, silicosis and asbestosis are treated as separate pulmonary fibrosis conditions. You can read more about silicosis on the Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis website.

There is often a long delay (10 years or more) between breathing in the dust and showing symptoms, so new diagnoses usually reflect past working conditions. People are often retired by the time they’re diagnosed.

If you’ve been exposed to certain substances in the course of your work, you may be entitled to compensation or benefits.

What are the symptoms of pneumoconiosis?

Symptoms of pneumoconiosis are similar to other forms of pulmonary fibrosis, including coughing, feeling breathless or feeling very tired. People with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis may cough up black mucus (phlegm).

How is pneumoconiosis treated?

The main treatment is avoiding the dust or fumes causing the condition. There are no specific drug treatments. Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation may help with your symptoms.

Read more about how pulmonary fibrosis is treated and things you can do to look after yourself.

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