Most people do not think that their job could cause them to develop a serious disease. However, exposure to dangerous chemicals and other hazardous substances can result in workers contracting life-threatening diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is often caused by smoking, but it can also occur if a worker is exposed to certain gases, fumes, air pollution, and dust on a regular basis. Miners, construction workers, cotton manufacturing workers, factory workers, warehouse workers, and custodial staff are a few of the industries where workers could develop COPD.

COPD is a medical condition where the airflow is limited in the person’s lungs. It can be one of or both of these diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis. With this disease, the airways to the lungs become inflamed and make too much mucus. A person can experience difficulties breathing when the airways narrow or become blocked.
  • Emphysema. A person who suffers with emphysema has damaged air sacs that are unable to stretch when he breathes in and out. This results in the person getting less air into his lungs, causing him to become short of breath.

Symptoms of COPD and Treatment Options

Signs of COPD usually develop over time, and a person may not realize he has COPD or that it was caused by his job. Symptoms can include the following:

  • Cough, which may include mucus
  • Fatigue
  • More frequent lung infections
  • Shortness of breath that can worsen within mild activities
  • Wheezing

Treatment for COPD cannot cure it, but can help the person manage his symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. If uncontrolled or severe, COPD can result in a person’s death. Possible treatments include:

  • Medications. These can include inhalers to open the air passageways, inhaled or oral steroids to reduce lung inflammation, and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce airway inflammation.
  • Antibiotics. A person with COPD is at greater risk of pneumonia and other lung infections. A person could need oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics if he develops an infection or as a preventive measure.
  • Rehabilitation program. Health professionals can advise a person suffering with COPD on how breathing exercises, diet, and exercise can help him manage his disease.
  • Oxygen. A person could need oxygen during episodes of serious difficulty breathing or if he has a serious infection limiting his ability to breathe. If the disease progresses, a person could need oxygen through a machine daily.

If you suffer from COPD from exposure to harmful substances at work, you may have difficulty completing simple tasks like getting dressed or cooking without experiencing shortness of breath. However, you may be entitled to compensation under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation. To start learning about your legal rights, order our FREE electronic book, What the Injured Worker Needs to Know. Your Workers’ Comp Guide.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer