What is Pneumoconiosis? - Definition, Types & Symptoms

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson defines pneumoconiosis and lists its types from more than one standpoint. You'll also get a good idea of the signs and symptoms a person may see and feel with pneumoconiosis in general.


Have you ever been in a dust storm? Inside a coal mine? Maybe just driven on a dirt-road where the car in front of you kicked up a lot of stuff? Well, you would've probably inhaled some minerals, which are inorganic substances that occur naturally in the Earth's crust.

And if you were to do that over and over again over a long period of time, you might develop a case of pneumoconiosis. In the widest definition of this word, pneumoconiosis is the umbrella term for one of many different lung diseases that stem from the inhalation of nonliving foreign matter (usually in an occupational setting). More specifically, it often refers to the inhalation of inorganic matter only. And sometimes it is strictly defined using not just any inorganic matter, but only mineral dust.

With that in mind, this lesson lists the different types of pneumoconiosis and goes over their general signs and symptoms.


Stephen has been a coal miner all of his life. As a result, he's been accumulating a lot of coal dust in his lungs, which has led to the development of coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or CWP, just one form of pneumoconiosis.

CWP may affect lung function.

Jack has been a mason and sandblaster for a very long time. Due to this, he has been inhaling silica (silicon dioxide), which helps make up things like quartz, sand, and many types of stone. This has caused him to develop silicosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust.

Inhalation of silica dust like this can lead to silicosis.

Amy has worked with asbestos, a term for fibrous and heat-resistant silicate minerals, for decades as an insulation worker. Because of this, she now has asbestosis, a condition caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers.

Normal lungs vs. lungs affected by asbestosis.

Asbestosis, silicosis, and coal worker's pneumoconiosis are the main types of pneumoconioses.

There are other types of pneumoconioses, however. The following is a list that starts off with the narrowest definition (mineral dust only), then expands to other inorganic matter (metals), and ends with the widest definition of the term possible (organic matter as well):

  • Silicatosis, which is pneumoconiosis caused by complex silica compounds. This includes the asbestosis mentioned above and non-asbestos silicatosis due to the likes of kaolin, talc, mica, vermiculite, and wollastonite. Don't get silicatosis confused with silicosis!
  • Mixed-dust pneumoconiosis
  • Metal-induced pneumoconiosis, such as aluminosis (due to aluminum), siderosis (due to iron), and similar disorders caused by the likes of inhaling chromium, vanadium, tungsten, cobalt, mercury, nickel, arsenic, tin, indium, as well as rare metals such as beryllium.
  • Pneumoconiosis as a result of organic matter. This includes byssinosis (caused by cotton dust).

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of all of these different types of pneumoconioses can vary highly. We'll stick to listing the signs and symptoms of the main three forms as a result.

For coal workers' pneumoconiosis:

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