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Occupational Lung Diseases

What are occupational lung diseases?

Repeated and long-term exposure to certain irritants on the job can lead to an array of lung diseases that may have lasting effects, even after exposure ceases. Certain occupations, because of the nature of their location, work, and environment, are more at risk for occupational lung diseases than others. Contrary to a popular misconception, coal miners are not the only ones at risk for occupational lung diseases. For instance, working in a car garage or textile factory can expose a person to hazardous chemicals, dusts, and fibers that may lead to a lifetime of lung problems if not properly diagnosed and treated.

Consider these statistics from the American Lung Association:
  • In the U.S., occupational lung diseases are the number one cause of work-related illness in terms of frequency, severity, and preventability.
  • Most occupational lung diseases are caused by repeated, long-term exposure, but even a severe, single exposure to a hazardous agent can damage the lungs.
  • Occupational lung diseases are preventable.
  • Smoking can increase both the severity of an occupational lung disease and the risk of lung cancer.

What are the symptoms of an occupational lung disease?

The following are the most common symptoms of lung diseases, regardless of the cause. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • chest tightness
  • abnormal breathing pattern

The symptoms of occupational lung diseases may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How are occupational lung diseases diagnosed?

Occupational lung diseases, like other lung diseases, usually require an initial chest x-ray for preliminary diagnosis. In addition, various tests may be performed to determine the type and severity of the lung disease, including:

  • pulmonary function tests – diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines into which the person must breathe.
  • microscopic examination of tissue, cells, and fluids from the lungs
  • biochemical and cellular studies of lung fluids
  • measurement of respiratory or gas exchange functions
  • examination of airway or bronchial activity
Treatment of occupational lung diseases:

Treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent and type of lung disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Consult your physician for more information regarding the treatment of occupational lung diseases.