What is Occupational Lung Disease?

If you run a business that involves having dusts, fibers, chemicals in the air and that has the potential to be transmitted into your employee’s lungs, they might be at a higher risk for occupational lung disease.

Occupational lung disease is a type of lung disease caused by the work environment. It is typically from irritants that are often found in certain types of businesses. For a construction company, it might be due to sawdust and dirt that gets kicked up. If you run an auto repair business, there may be chemicals, oil and various hazardous chemicals. Without proper treatment, this can lead to serious lung problems, so it is best that you get a handle on it now. You can also learn more by visiting the Lung Association.

 Organic vs Inorganic Dust

It is often the particles, such as soot, ashes, dirt, mold, dust, pollen and ashes, in the air that cause lung problems,. These particles are found in many different types of business environments, and can damage the lungs when they enter them. The severity is determined by the type of particle dust, which is categorized as organic or inorganic. Organic dust includes particles that contain carbon, though does not include carbon oxide, metal carbonate or sulfide. Inorganic dust does not contain carbon.

Common Signs and Symptoms

No matter what caused the occupational lung disease, the majority of the signs and symptoms are the same. If your employees are experiencing any of the following symptoms, they should see a doctor about possibly having lung disease:

  • Chest pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Abnormal breathing pattern


If you present with any of the above symptoms, your doctor will want to perform a physical exam and take a series of tests. These not only look for occupational lung disease, but to rule out other potential causes for the symptoms.

A chest x-ray is usually the first test to be performed, because it has the ability to pinpoint a wide variety of abnormalities within the lungs. Other tests, such as a pulmonary function test, examining your airway, measuring your respiratory exchange functions, and doing a microscopic examination of cells, fluids and tissue in your lungs. may also be indicated,


The appropriate treatment for occupational lung disease depends on a number of factors, such as your age and health, medical history, and the type of lung disease or severity you have. Other things that might change your treatment include what your tolerance is for certain therapies and medications, which are commonly the first course of treatment, and what your preferences are.


There are a few preventative measures to be taken if you or your employees are at risk for occupational lung disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), you should:

  • Avoid smoking as it increases your risk for lung disease.
  • Protect your face with a mask while working.
  • Teach employees about the risks of certain dust and particles.
  • Perform lung function tests during routine doctor visits.

In addition to these preventative measures, make sure your employees are covered with a workers’ compensation insurance policy.