Black Lung Causes
Unlike other respiratory conditions that have multiple causes, black lung disease has only one trigger: the prolonged inhalation of coal mine dust. Indeed, black lung disease – also referred to as anthracosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and miner’s lung – is so named because the accumulation of coal mine dust in the lungs causes a normally pink lung to turn visibly black over time.
Black lung disease is most prevalent among workers in the coal industry, including miners, processers and shippers. It is also common among individuals who are exposed to graphite, carbon electrodes, carbon black, lamp black and other coal byproducts. When coal mine dust is regularly inhaled over an extended period of time (usually 10 years or longer), the following process occurs internally and causes the development of black lung disease:
- Each time coal mine dust is inhaled, it initiates a response from the body’s immune system, which then sends macrophages (scavenger white blood cells tasked with eliminating foreign particles) to remove the coal mine dust from the lungs.
- When the macrophages inevitably become overwhelmed by the amount of inhaled coal mine dust, both the coal mine dust and the macrophages begin to accumulate and settle in the lungs, combining to form coal macules. The macrophages also release a chemical that leads to pulmonary fibrosis (the formation of scar tissue in the lungs).
- This buildup and scarring causes the lungs to widen and stiffen, making it difficult for them to properly expand during inhalation. It also damages the walls of the air sacs, inhibiting the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. All of this results in a decreased blood-oxygen level, which in turn can damage other bodily organs.
The accumulation of coal mine dust in the lungs causes black lung disease to develop. However, because the condition is actually a reaction to the buildup of macrophages and scarring in the lungs, it may continue to worsen even after an individual is no longer exposed to the dust. The severity of black lung disease depends on how much coal mine dust is inhaled, as well as the duration of the exposure.
At the Lung Institute, we understand that black lung disease causes a number of unpleasant symptoms, including shortness of breath and chronic coughing. If you’re living with this condition, you may be interested in learning about our innovative cellular therapy, which can potentially slow the progression of the disease. Please call us today at (800) 729-3065. We look forward to helping you breathe easier.