Let’s Talk About Silicosis

What is silicosis? 

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz. It mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in occupations such mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work. Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can harm your ability to breathe. Breathing crystalline silica causes silicosis and the main risk factor is exposure to silica dust.

Types of Silicosis: 

There are three types of silicosis:

1) Acute silicosis, which causes cough, weight loss, and fatigue within a few weeks or years of exposure to inhaled silica.

2) Chronic silicosis, which appears 10 to 30 years after exposure and can affect upper lungs and sometimes cause extensive scarring.

3) Accelerated silicosis, which occurs within 10 years of high-level exposure.

While there is no cure for this lung disease it can be prevented. 

Fact: About 2 million US workers remain potentially exposed to occupational silica. 

How it affects the body:

Silicosis affects the lungs by damaging the lining of the lung air sacs. Once this begins, it leads to scarring and, in some situations, to a condition called progressive massive fibrosis. This condition happens when there is severe scarring and stiffening of the lung, which makes it difficult to breathe. Some people with acute silicosis experience cough, weight loss, tiredness, and may have fever or a sharp chest pain. You may also have shortness of breath over time, especially with chronic silicosis. Your healthcare provider might hear crackles or wheezing when they listen to your lungs. Silicosis can cause major lung damage and accounts for more than 100 deaths each year in the United States.

Having silicosis also increases the risk of other problems, such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.

Each type of silicosis affects the body somewhat differently. In acute silicosis, the lungs become very inflamed and can fill with fluid, which causes severe shortness of breath and low blood oxygen levels. Chronic silicosis, the silica dust causes areas of swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes, which makes breathing more difficult. Accelerated silicosis, swelling in the lungs and symptoms occur faster than in chronic silicosis.

Over time, lung capacity decreases, and people with silicosis may need support with oxygen and other devices to help them breathe.

Helping to reduce the risk of silicosis:

If you or your workers are working in a job that exposes you to silica dust, you  must, by law, have access to the correct equipment and clothing you need to protect yourself. You and/or your employer are responsible for using it and for taking other steps to protect yourself and your family as you leave your job site and head home. NIOSH also recommends that medical examinations occur before job placement or upon entering a trade, and at least every 3 years thereafter. You can prevent silicosis by limiting exposure. There are national guidelines on exposure limits over a lifetime of working.

Worker Care offers preemployment and annual medical exams to monitor your exposure and any effects it may have. 

Seeking medical attention: 

if you or your employee have a cough, phlegm, or breathing difficulty that is not improving, you should be closely evaluated by your doctor. Some people with acute silicosis also have fever, weight loss, and fatigue. Any person who works in industries with exposure to inhaled silica should get regular health checkups and be monitored for signs and symptoms of lung disease. If you develop symptoms, we can help you get a claim and treatment going.

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