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Pneumoconiosis and Social Security Disability

Pneumoconiosis – Conditions and Symptoms

Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease that is caused from prolonged inhalation of harmful dusts which results in damage to lung tissue. It is categorized as both an occupational lung disease and a restrictive lung disease.

Pneumoconiosis is considered an occupational lung disease because it is most often contracted due to working in conditions that result in the prolonged inhalation of harmful substances that are known to cause lung disease. Occupational lung diseases are categorized by the type of dust that causes them:

  • Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (“Black Lung Disease”) - coal, carbon
  • Asbestosis - asbestos
  • Silicosis - silica
  • Bauxite fibrosis - bauxite
  • Siderosis - iron

Pneumoconiosis is classified as a restrictive lung disease because it causes restriction of the lung capacity, resulting in labored breathing and less oxygenation to the blood.

The most common form of Pneumoconiosis is coal worker’s Pneumoconiosis, known as CWP. When coal dust particles enter the lungs, they irritate the delicate lung tissue and eventually become imbedded around the bronchioles and alveoli. These coal macules, as they are termed, can be sparse or numerous, depending on the severity of the case.

In many cases, the coal macules only produce minor fibrosis, or scarring of the lung tissue, and can sometimes cause shortness of breath (emphysema).

In more serious cases, the macules become so numerous that they combine to form large black masses that significantly restrict the lung’s functions and cause serious scarring, known as progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF, which can lead to lung failure.

There are no real outward symptoms of Pneumoconiosis. Shortness of breath and coughing may occur, but are usually related to other conditions such as emphysema that can accompany the continued inhalation of coal dust and other irritants, and do not establish the existence of Pneumoconiosis. A diagnosis of Pneumoconiosis is determined based on a known history of prolonged dust exposure as well as chest x-rays and CT scans to verify the presence of the nodules caused from the imbedding of the irritants.

Once Pneumoconiosis develops it cannot be reversed, and in many cases the condition will get progressively worse even after exposure to the harmful dusts has stopped. The best way to avoid a possible case of Pneumoconiosis is to avoid prolonged inhalation of harmful substances like coal dust, silica, and asbestos. Since the realization that inhalation of certain substances over time can be linked to various types of lung disease, many industrial regulations (such as the required use of masks) have been implemented in an effort to protect employees’ health.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Pneumoconiosis Diagnosis

Pneumoconiosis is recognized by the Social Security Administration as a disabling condition, and is listed under Respiratory System in the Adult Listings of Impairments.

Respiratory System impairments are established as causing either a loss of the lung’s capacity, an insufficient exchange of gases within the lungs (incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide), or both. There are many symptoms of respiratory impairments, including coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and abnormal breathing. Because these symptoms are also associated with other types of impairments, it is necessary to provide a detailed medical history, a record of all examinations, and imaging of the lungs to establish the presence of a chronic respiratory disease.

In order to receive a disability determination with a diagnosis of Pneumoconiosis, the SSA requires the establishment of the previous two criteria using specific tests. To test for a reduced lung capacity, the first possible qualifying condition for lung disease, measurements called the FEV (forced expiratory volume) and FVC (forced vital capacity) are taken using a device called a spirometer. The sufficiency of gas exchanges within the lungs is also tested, using diffusing capacity, or DLCO. The charts included on the Lung Disease section of the Listing of Impairments show which levels are required to qualify for a disability with that impairment.

In addition to testing within the appropriate levels for these tests, the SSA requires the use of accurate imaging, including x-rays and CT scans, to verify the presence of the lung damage associated with Pneumoconiosis. Some doctors consider X-rays inconclusive when diagnosing Pneumoconiosis, as the condition can look similar to tumors. CT scans more accurately verify Pneumoconiosis.

Your Pneumoconiosis Disability Case

If your career as a coal miner or other industrial worker has caused you prolonged exposure to harmful dust and left you with a Pneumoconiosis diagnosis, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Although early-stage Pneumoconiosis may not result in a totally disabling condition, more serious cases can leave you unable to perform work of any kind. Establishing weighty evidence in the form of doctor’s exams, tests, x-rays and CT scans will be a huge advantage to your case, as is your work record in a field known to expose you to harmful dust inhalation. To increase your chances of being granted disability benefits, it may be wise to obtain the expert advice of a disability lawyer to help you with your case.