What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a condition caused by inhaling too much silica
over a long period of time. Silica is a highly common, crystal-like mineral
found in sand, rock, and quartz. Silica can have deadly consequences for people
who work with stone, concrete, glass, or other forms of rock.
What causes silicosis?
Any level of silica exposure can result in silicosis. There
are three types of silicosis:
Acute silicosis forms a few weeks or months after high
levels of silica exposure. This condition progresses rapidly.
Accelerated silicosis comes on five to 10 years after
Chronic silicosis occurs 10 years or more after silica
exposure. Even low exposure levels can cause chronic silicosis.
Silica dust particles act as tiny blades on the lungs. These
particles create small cuts that can scar the lung tissue when inhaled through
the nose or mouth. Scarred lungs do not open and close as well, making
breathing more difficult.
The U.S. Department of Safety calls silica a “carcinogen.”
This means that silica can cause cancer, including lung cancer.
Who is at risk for silicosis?
Factory, mine, and masonry workers are at the greatest risk
for silicosis because they deal with silica in their work. People who work in the
following industries are at greatest risk:
- asphalt manufacturing
- concrete production
- crushing or drilling rock and concrete
- demolition work
- glass manufacturing
Workers in high-risk industries and their employers must
take steps to protect against silica exposure.
are the symptoms of silicosis?
Silicosis is a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse
over time. Symptoms may start out as an intense cough, shortness of breath, or
weakness. Other possible symptoms include:
- chest pain
- night sweats
- weight loss
- respiratory failure
Having silicosis increases your risk for respiratory
infections, including tuberculosis.
is silicosis diagnosed?
You should seek medical attention if you suspect you have
silicosis. Your doctor will ask questions about when or how you may have been
exposed to silica. They can test your lung function with pulmonary function
X-ray can test for any scar tissue you may have. Silica scars appear on
X-rays as small, white spots.
may also be conducted. This procedure involves passing a thin, flexible tube
down the throat. A camera attached to the tube allows the physician to view your
lung tissue. Tissue and fluid samples can also be taken during a bronchoscopy.
is silicosis treated?
Silicosis doesn’t have one specific medical treatment. The
aim of treatment will be to reduce your symptoms. Cough medicine can help with
cough symptoms and antibiotics can help treat respiratory infections. Inhalers
can be used to open up the airways. Some patients wear oxygen masks to increase
the amount of oxygen in their blood.
You should avoid further silica exposure if you have
silicosis. You should also quit smoking, as smoking damages lung tissue.
People with silicosis are at increased risk for tuberculosis
(TB). You should be tested regularly for TB if you have silicosis. A physician
can prescribe medications to treat TB.
Patients with severe silicosis may require a lung
is the long-term outlook for silicosis?
Silicosis has become less common over time thanks to improved
work safety measures. However, silicosis can still occur, and there is no cure
for it at present. More than 100 people die of silicosis every year, according
to the American
Your long-term outlook depends on the severity of your
condition. Intense lung scarring can develop in both accelerated and chronic
silicosis. Scarring destroys healthy lung tissue, reducing the amount of oxygen
the lungs can transmit to the blood.
Workers can wear special masks called respirators to keep
from inhaling silica. These masks may be marked for “abrasive blasting”
Water sprays and wet cutting methods reduce the risk of
silica exposure. Workplaces should meet Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) standards. This includes proper ventilation. Employers
can monitor air quality at worksites to ensure that there’s no excess silica in
the air. Employers must report all diagnosed incidents of silicosis.
Workers should eat, drink, and smoke away from dust that may
contain silica. They should also wash their hands before doing any of these
activities to clear their hands of any dust.