You’re exposed to dust every day on the job. If you’re outside, you don’t think about it too much. Inside, though, you often find yourself coughing and sneezing. Is this just an annoyance and part of the job that you have to deal with, or is it actually dangerous?

It largely depends what is in that dust. Your lungs do have some serious protection systems designed to keep them clean and healthy. They may protect you from low levels of dust, even with consistent exposure, with no long-lasting issues.

However, the dust could pose a bigger problem. For instance, some types of infected organic dust can lead to Q Fever, psittacosis or histoplasmosis. Some types of dust may contain chemicals that are harmful; for instance, if you’re a carpenter breathing in wood dust, are you using treated lumber or nontreated lumber?

Perhaps the most dangerous type of dust is that which contains asbestos. These particles are so small that they can get around your lungs’ defenses. They’re also virtually indestructible. They can get trapped in the lungs and lead to serious diseases, including a type of aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma. In many instances, it takes decades for cancer to develop after exposure to asbestos, so you may think that you got through your career largely unscathed, when you really inhaled something that is going to bring on a major medical condition in the future.

Every work environment is unique and different types of dust bring on their own challenges. If you suffer serious complications, just make sure you are well aware of the legal options you have.