Black Lung Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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What are the symptoms of black lung disease?

It might be years after exposure before you start noticing symptoms of black lung disease. At first, you might not have any symptoms. But with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, your symptoms may get worse over time. Symptoms include:

  • Tightness in your chest.
  • Difficulty exercising.
  • Feeling short of breath. You may notice this even in routine tasks that didn’t make you tired before.
  • A cough that’s sometimes productive (you may cough up black mucus).

On physical exam, your healthcare provider might hear wheezing or crackling when you breathe. Although you won’t be able to see that your lungs are black, imaging will reveal specific markers that tell your healthcare provider that it’s black lung and not another form of lung (pulmonary) disease.

What causes black spots on your lung?

You can’t always see the particles you’re inhaling. But the tiny specs of dust (particles) in coal mines have carbon. And depending on where your mine is and what types of rock you’re drilling through, the dust may also contain something called silica.

When you take a breath in a coal mine, these small particles of dust can get all the way to your lungs. Your immune system will recognize them as invaders (foreign bodies) and try to get rid of them. This immune reaction can lead to inflammation and scarring and, eventually, the symptoms of black lung disease.

Does weed make your lungs black?

Smoking any substance is bad for your lungs. It doesn’t matter if you’re smoking marijuana (also called weed or cannabis), cigarettes or cigars. When you smoke, you inhale particles that contain toxins, irritants and carcinogens into your airways.

Smoking can cause your lungs to scar and puts you at greater risk of developing breathing problems like chronic cough, bronchitis, COPD and lung cancer. But it doesn’t cause black lung disease (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis). Only coal causes this particular form of lung disease.

Does vaping make your lungs black?

Just like smoking, vaping causes lung damage but doesn’t make your lungs black. That said, vaping (and smoking) can make the symptoms of black lung disease worse.

But vaping carries unique risks. In vaping, you use a vape pen (or e-cigarette) to heat a liquid into a vapor that you breathe in to get the substance (whether it’s tobacco or cannabis or something else). The particles you inhale in vaping cause a similar immune reaction in your lungs. But it’s not called black lung disease. It can cause lung scarring, organ damage and a serious condition called e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI).

Is black lung disease contagious?

Black lung disease isn’t contagious. You can’t catch it or give it to someone else. It’s also not inherited or genetic. The only way to get black lung disease is to mine coal.

Is it viral or bacterial?

Although you’ll eventually feel sick from black lung disease, it’s not a viral or bacterial infection. Just as your body responds to foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria, your immune system is activated by the particles you’ve inhaled in the coal mine. At first, this immune response might feel like you have a common cold or flu.

What are the complications of black lung disease?

Complications of black lung disease include:

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