Most industries and workplaces pose various health and safety risks to their employees. These include physical agents like noise and heat, chemical risks like toxic fumes and carcinogens like asbestos, or biological hazards like pathogens. Exposure to them can lead to disorders and diseases like musculoskeletal disorders, dermatitis, hearing loss, cancers, and mental health disorders like anxiety.
Among these, occupational lung diseases are also a significant cause for concern. They are caused by repeated and long-term exposure to various irritants in the workplace and often permanently damage the lungs even after exposure ceases. Continue reading to find three common occupational lung diseases, their causes, effects on the lung, and treatment options.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a general term for six minerals made of tiny fibers, and manufacturers previously used it to strengthen materials and make them fire-resistant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now regulates its use, but some industries still use it for filtering chemicals, roofing products, and vehicle breaks.
Industries with the highest risk of coming in contact with asbestos include construction, manufacturing, firefighting, shipbuilding and repair, and the chemical industry. Asbestos does not pose a health risk unless it becomes airborne. When asbestos-containing products break down, they release their particles into the air.
Asbestos fibers enter the lungs and damage them over time when breathed in, leading to lung scarring and stiffening. It causes shortness of breath after physical activity, wheezing, a persistent cough, and fatigue. Once asbestosis has developed, there is no cure for it. However, quitting smoking and oxygen therapy can significantly improve the quality of life in patients.
Occupational asthma is the most common occupational lung disease in industrialized countries. It is caused by inhaling airborne irritants in the workplace like dust, chemical fumes, vapors, animal substances like dander, and organic dust like cereal, flour, and coffee. People at higher risk for occupational asthma often work in cotton and textile industries, food processing, farming and animal care, construction, manufacturing, and food processing operations.
Symptoms of this disorder include a wet cough, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing. It is often reversible if you avoid the irritants that trigger it. However, if the condition progresses further and worsens, it can be treated with medications, breathing aids, and physical therapy. Salt therapy can also help improve asthma symptoms, and you can learn more about it here.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an allergic lung disease caused by repeatedly breathing in allergens like bacteria, chemicals, and mold that cause lung inflammation. These irritants are present in animal furs and feathers, bird droppings, animal feed like hay or grains, and hardwood dust.
Breathing in these irritants causes an allergic reaction, leading to inflamed air sacs, fibrous scar tissue in the lungs, and abnormal breathing. Symptoms include chest pain, strange sounds when breathing called rales, extreme fatigue, long-term bronchitis, and flu-like illness.
You must avoid irritants that trigger the condition or worsen your symptoms, as failing to do so might lead to permanent lung damage, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure. Treatment options include medicines like Prednisone that soothe and heal the delicate lining of your airways to help you breathe easier, allergy medications, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and lung transplant in cases of extreme lung damage.
Repeated exposure to harmful airborne substances like asbestos, toxic fumes, dust, bacteria, and mold causes most occupational lung diseases. These often have permanent effects on the lungs, and treatment options only aim to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve the quality of life.
You must adopt proper preventative measures if you work in an industry that risks damaging your lungs. Wear protective facial masks, get regular evaluations by a doctor in case of symptoms, and quit smoking if you do so, as it increases the risk of developing these diseases.