Most of us are aware that workers in industries like coal mining and construction can be susceptible to work-related lung disorders. But some residents in our community also suffer from rare forms of lung diseases that aren’t job related and don’t fit into a particular category like asthma or bronchitis.
Now doctors are becoming better trained at identifying and treating both types of respiratory ailments and improving the quality of life for patients.
That’s the goal of Carilion Clinic’s new Occupational and Rare Lung Disease program, the first of its kind in the region. It will open in July near Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
“There’s definitely a need for it,” says Anthony Loschner, M.D., whose post-graduate medical training included a three-year fellowship working with global experts in occupational lung disease at West Virginia University. “It takes a specialized physician who is skilled in managing a particular lung disease.”
He and Dr. Jose Goyos are pulmonologists who will initially treat patients two days per week as part of their regular duties at Carilion’s Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine practice in Roanoke. Hours will be added as patient demand increases.
Lung cancer affects more than 370,000 Americans a year, causing more deaths than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined, according to the American Lung Association.
Occupational lung disease is caused by workers inhaling foreign matter such as coal dust, masonry dust, or asbestos. The inhalants can scar the lungs and cause a range of respiratory problems. Rare lung diseases have a range of causes and can be related to a person’s work or home environment.
Edmundo Rubio, M.D., chief of Carilion’s Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, says many job-related lung disorders often aren’t recognized because a patient’s symptoms are similar to other lung disorders.
“Some people present simply with asthma, but their asthma may only occur in certain places,” he says. “Their lungs react to something in the work environment, like a farmer who is exposed to hay.”
Recognizing a patient’s type of lung disease is important for proper treatment. While many forms are chronic and incurable, a patient’s quality of life can be improved with a range of drugs to suppress symptoms and decrease shortness of breath.
“Most pulmonologists have limited experience with both rare and occupational lung disease,” says Dr. Loschner. “We feel comfortable managing these patients.”
Evaluation for such patients will be expedited, according to Dr. Loschner.
For more information, call 540-985-8505.
Jay Conley has been a reporter for newspapers including The Roanoke Times, a staff writer for Randolph College in Lynchburg, and a writer for national publications such as U.S. News & World Report.