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Pulmonary fibrosis

Occupational interstitial lung diseases

Pneumoconiosis is a term for a group of lung diseases caused by breathing in specific dusts in your workplace. They get lodged inside your lungs and cause scarring.

The most common type is coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, caused by breathing in coal dust. Other forms are silicosis, caused by exposure to silica dust and asbestosis, caused by breathing in asbestos.

There is often a long delay (20 years or more) between breathing in the dust and showing symptoms, so new cases usually reflect past working conditions. You’ll often be retired before you’re diagnosed.


Symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  • tiredness
  • chest pain
  • coughing up black phlegm (coal worker’s pneumoconiosis only)


The main treatment is avoiding the dust or fumes causing the condition. There are no specific drug treatments. Oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation may help with your symptoms.

If you have been exposed to certain substances in the course of your work, you may be entitled to compensation or benefits. Call our helpline to find out more.

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Last medically reviewed: August 2019. Due for review: August 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.