Occupational lung diseases are lung problems that are made worse in certain work environments. They are caused by long-term exposure to certain irritants that are breathed into the lungs. These lung diseases may have lasting effects, even after the exposure ends.
Particles in the air from many sources, such as factories, smokestacks, exhaust, fires, mining, construction, and agriculture , cause these lung problems. The smaller the particles are, the more damage they can do to the lungs. Smaller particles are easily inhaled deep into the lungs. There, they are absorbed into the body instead of being coughed out:
Certain types of work put you at greater risk for occupational lung diseases than others. For instance, working in a car garage or textile factory can expose you to unsafe chemicals, dusts, and fibers.
Most occupational lung diseases are caused by repeated, long-term exposure. But, even a severe, single exposure to an unsafe agent can damage the lungs.
Smoking can make occupational lung disease worse.
The following are the most common symptoms of lung diseases. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of occupational lung diseases may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Occupational lung diseases, like other lung diseases, usually require an initial chest X-ray for diagnosis. Tests that may be needed to determine the type and severity of the lung disease include:
A test that takes pictures of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs)
These tests help measure the lungs' ability to move air into and out of the lungs. The tests are usually done with special machines that you breathe into.
This test uses a flexible tube called a bronchoscope to view the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs). Bronchoscopy helps diagnose lung problems, look for blockages, take out samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body. Bronchoscopy may include a biopsy or bronchoalveolar lavage.
Taking out a small piece of tissue, cells, or fluid from the lung so they can be examined under a microscope.
Removing cells from the lower respiratory tract to help identify inflammation and rule out certain causes.
This test measures the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. Other blood tests may be used to look for possible infections and other problems.
Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays. They can be used to diagnose lung diseases, monitor disease progression, and evaluate response to treatment.
There is no cure for most occupational lung diseases. Treatments are aimed at:
Treatment depends on the type of lung disease. There is no way to fix lung scarring that has already happened.
Occupational lung diseases are preventable. The best prevention is to avoid the inhaled substances that cause lung problems. Other preventive measures include: