Occupational Lung Disease

Occupational lung diseases are a group of pulmonary disorders that are caused primarily by work related exposures to harmful substances, such as dusts or gases. Substances known to cause lung disease include:

  • Coal dust
  • Asbestos
  • Silicon (which is usually in the form of quartz)
  • Barium


Asbestosis is caused by long-term, repeated exposure to asbestos, a natural fiber that is used for various industrial purposes, such as insulation and car brake linings. Fibers of asbestos in the air are inhaled and become lodged in the lungs. As a result, lung tissue is scarred and lungs are unable to contract and expand normally. Asbestosis also increases a persons chance of developing asbestos lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer almost always caused by asbestos.

Symptoms of asbestosis typically do not develop until 20-30 years after initial exposure. The main symptom is shortness of breath that worsens over time.

There is currently no cureative treatment for asbestosis. Patients should end all contact with asbestos, although most people have been exposed in the past and often are retired altogether by the time they develop symptoms of the disease. Oxygen therapy is often used to relieve the shortness of breath and correct underlying hypoxia. Supportive treatment of symptoms includes:

  • Respiratory physiotherapy to remove secretions from the lungs by postural drainage
  • Chest percussion
  • Vibration
  • Nebulized medications

patients should take the annual influenza vaccination and be immunized against pneumococcal pneumonia. Quitting smoking is also highly recommended.

Chronic Beryllium Disease

Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) causes scarring of the lung tissue and occurs when a person inhales beryllium dust or fumes and has become sensitized to this material. Beryllium is a naturally occuring lightweight metal. It is used in various industries, such as electronics, aerospace, dental, aotomic energy and defense.

In the early stages, CBD may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, over time, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Shortness of breath with physical activity
  • Dry cough that will not go away
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Chest and joint pain
  • Loss of appetite

At this time, there is no cure for chronic beryllium disease. However, treatment is available that can help slow the progression of the disease, prevent further lung damage caused by scarring, improve oxygen levels in the bloodstream and manage symptoms.

Treatment depends on the severity of your disease and symptoms and may include the following:


Silicosis is a lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust. Silica is a common mineral found naturally in sand and rock, such as granite and sandstone. Silica scars lung and affects its ability to function normally. Inhalation of crystalline silica particles may also lead to other conditions, particularly tuberculosis. There is also a link between silicosis and lung cancer.

Silica exposure is common in mines and quarries and in a number of other occupations such as construction (especially sandblasting), foundry-work, ceramics and glass-making.

There are different types of silicosis depending on how quickly symptoms develop after exposure. The most common form is chronic silicosis, in which symptoms occur after ten years or more of overexposure. The most common symptoms are chronic dry cough and shortness of breath with physical activity.

Silicosis is an irreversible condition with no cure. Treatment options focus on alleviating symptoms and preventing complications. They include:

  • Stopping further exposure to silica
  • Avoiding other lung irritants, which includes quitting smoking
  • Cough suppressants
  • Antibiotics for bacterial lung infection
  • Bronchodilators to facilitate breathing
  • TB prophylaxis for those with positive tuberculin skin test or IGRA blood test
  • Prolonged anti-tuberculosis drug regimen for those with active TB
  • Chest physiotherapy to help the bronchial drainage of mucus
  • Oxygen administration to treat hypoxemia, if present
  • Lung transplantation to replace the damaged lung tissue is the most effective treatment, but is associated with severe risks of its own
  • For acute silicosis, Whole-lung lavage may alleviate symptoms, but does not decrease overall mortality