What Is Silicosis? Everything to Know
Read on to learn about the symptoms of silicosis. This guide also includes information about causes and treatments, when to contact a doctor, and more.
Silicosis is an occupational lung disease that develops from long-term exposure to crystalline silica dust. Inhaling silica dust particles over a number of years can result in permanent scarring of the lungs.
The main symptoms of silicosis include:
- shortness of breath
- persistent cough
Symptoms can take years to develop. In some cases, you may not experience symptoms until you no longer work with silica dust.
Long-term inhalation of silica dust particles causes silicosis. Around 2.3 million people in the United States face silica exposure at work, according to the United States Department of Labor.
Occupations where silica exposure is a risk include:
- construction work involving cutting or breaking stone, brick, or concrete
- foundry work
- manufacturing work involving silica flour
- pottery work
- slate work
Silicosis is a type of pneumoconiosis. Learn more about the causes of pneumoconiosis.
How much silica dust causes silicosis?
Silicosis develops from long-term frequent exposure to silica dust.
Different stone types have different amounts of silica. Even if you have exposure to silica from working with stone, the amount of silica dust you breathe in can vary.
Types of stone that have more than 70% silica include:
Other types of stone that contain a potentially high amount of silica include:
- concrete, with 25–70% silica
- shale, with 40–60% silica
- china stone, with up to 50% silica
- slate, with up to 40% silica
Silica can also be found in:
Silicosis occurs from frequent long-term exposure to silica dust. It typically develops from 5–20 years of exposure, though acute silicosis can develop from a few months of heavy exposure.
There is currently no cure for silicosis, according to the American Lung Association. But your doctor can recommend treatments to help you to ease symptoms and slow the progression of the condition.
Treatments your doctor may recommend include:
- bronchodilators to relax lung muscles and widen your airway
- supplemental oxygen to get more air into your lungs
- pulmonary rehabilitation to help you with exercising
- surgery, such as lung transplant, in severe cases
Your doctor can explain the treatments they recommend in more detail and answer any questions you may have.
Other steps you can take to manage your symptoms include:
- avoiding further exposure to silica and other irritants
- quitting smoking, if you currently smoke, since smoking can speed up the progression of silicosis
- maintaining a moderate weight
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- remaining as active as possible and getting enough regular exercise
- keeping on top of your flu and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccinations to reduce the risk of infections
Contact a doctor as soon as you have concerns about silicosis.
You may not experience symptoms for up to 20 years following the beginning of exposure to silica dust. Contacting your doctor can help make sure you begin treatment to slow the progression of the condition as early as possible.
To assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may take a full medical history and carry out a physical examination. They may also ask questions about your work history to find out if and for how long you have worked around silica dust.
Your doctor may then order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Possible tests include:
Your doctor may also recommend a tuberculosis (TB) test because having silicosis can increase your risk of developing TB. The doctor can explain this and any other tests they arrange in more detail and answer any questions you may have.
Silicosis can increase your risk of various complications. According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, possible complications of silicosis include:
- chest infections, such as TB
- heart failure
- pulmonary hypertension
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- kidney disease
- lung cancer
Contact your doctor if you have concerns about the complications of silicosis.
Silicosis can take many years to develop after you’ve experienced long-term exposure to silica dust. Due to this, you may not be able to prevent it.
However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued standards for the use of respirable crystalline silica in construction, general industry, and maritime.
The standards help ensure that silica dust exposure is below the allowed exposure limit.
Wearing the right protective equipment while working with silica can also help reduce the amount of silica dust you inhale.
If you have silicosis as a result of occupational exposure to silica dust particles, you may be entitled to compensation.
Contact the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs for more information.
Silicosis is an occupational lung disease that develops from long-term inhalation of silica dust. Common symptoms include shortness of breath and a persistent cough.
You are more likely to develop silicosis if you work with types of stone such as sandstone, gritstone, and quartzite. You may not experience symptoms of silicosis until 20 years after your initial exposure to silica dust particles.
Contact your doctor if you have concerns about silicosis. They will be able to carry out tests to reach an accurate diagnosis and advise on treatments to help you to manage your symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition.