With an alarming number of new black lung diagnoses and an even more troubling trend of younger miners contracting the disease, revisiting the telltale signs and causes of the deadly disease is essential.
Black lung remains a problem in search of a solution. Countless coal miners have contracted the disease following long-term exposure to dust in coal mines, where they inhale the silica particles. The dust settles in the lungs with the tissue trying to fight and eliminate the invasive material. The resulting effects lead to tuberculosis, heart failure, and lung cancer. Black lung is the most prominent affliction that lacks a cure to date.
Signs of black lung often take years to manifest. In far too many instances, symptoms do not begin until miners are close to retirement or already retired. Early stages see coughing, shortness of breath, and chest constriction. Victims often cough up black sputum or mucus, particularly after strenuous activity. Over time, those suffering while at rest will experience coughing as well.
Black lung significantly scars the lung tissue, a condition known as progressive massive fibrosis. Severe scarring prevents oxygen from reaching the blood, putting significant stress on the heart, brain, and other organs.
To date, specific tests for the disease are lacking. The severity of black lung is based on symptoms and when they started, products and materials that were part of a workday, and the use or absence of protective equipment. A history of smoking can also make a bad situation worse.