The main symptoms of black lung disease, also known as pneumoconiosis, include shortness of breath and chronic cough, according to the American Lung Association. A physician uses chest X-rays, pulmonary function tests and a vocational history of the patient to determine if black lung disease is the present.
Inhaling coal dust leads to black lung disease, which means that it is an occupational disease. Black lung disease comes in two types: simple (coal workers' pneumoconiosis) and complicated (progressive massive fibrosis). In either form, black lung disease is an interstitial lung condition. This means that an external substance causes inflammation in the air sacs inside the lungs. As the tissue develops scar tissue in response, the lung gradually gets less and less flexible, as stated by the American Lung Association.
In many cases, it takes years for symptoms of black lung disease to appear; however, the coal dust eventually comes to rest inside the lung and makes the lung stiffen. As this process accelerates, it becomes harder to breathe. Even after the patient stops working in an environment with coal dust, the disease gets progressively worse. Potential complications include lung cancer, tuberculosis, respiratory failure and heart failure on the right side. As of 2015, there is no cure or treatment, according to the American Lung Association.