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Any lung disease caused by inhalation of organic or inorganic dusts or chemical irritants, usually over time. Some dusts (e.g., silica minerals, asbestos) produce grave reactions in small quantities. Dust collects in the pulmonary alveoli, causing inflammation that scars lung tissue, reducing its elasticity. Chest tightness and shortness of breath may progress to chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoking worsens many types. The most common cause of severe disease is silica (seesilicosis). Asbestos (seeasbestosis), beryllium, and aluminum dusts can cause worse disease, often on brief exposure. Organic causes include mold spores (seeallergy) and textile fibres. Chemical irritants such as ammonia, acid, and sulfur dioxide are soon absorbed by the lung lining; their irritant effect can cause pulmonary edema, and they can lead to chronic bronchitis.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on pneumoconiosis, visit Britannica.com.