Black lung disease

Alternative names
Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis; Pneumoconiosis

Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis is a respiratory disease caused by inhaling coal dust for prolonged periods.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis occurs in two forms: simple and complicated (progressive massive fibrosis). Inhalation of coal dust causes this disease. The simple form is usually not disabling, but the complicated form often is. Smoking does not increase the prevalence of this disease but may have an additive detrimental effect on lung function.

The risk of developing the disease is related to the duration and extent of exposure to the coal dust. Most affected workers are over the age of 50.


  • shortness of breath  
  • chroniccough

Signs and tests

  • chest X-ray  
  • pulmonary function tests

There is no specific treatment for this disorder other than treatment of complications. Avoidance of further exposure to coal dust is recommended.

Support Groups
For additional resources, see lung disease support group.

Expectations (prognosis)
The outcome for the simple form is usually good. However, the complicated form may become a disabling illness.


  • cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart)  
  • pulmonary tuberculosis

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis.

To minimize workers’ exposure to coal dust, maximum permitted dust levels should be enforced and workers should wear protective masks.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Dave R. Roger, M.D.

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