Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that contains crystalline silica. In acute silicosis, the disease occurs after weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of the silica.
Crystalline silica can be found in: ConcreteMasonrySandstoneRockPaintOther abrasivesSoilMortarPlasterShingles
When these materials are cut, broken, crushed, drilled, ground, or blasted, silica dust may be produced.
When silica dust gets into the air you breathe, it may become trapped in your lungs. The dust buildup damages your lungs. More dust will create more damage. This will make it hard for you to breathe.
Pathway to Lungs
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Working in the following occupations increases your chance of acute silicosis: Sandblasting (the most common cause of acute silicosis)ConstructionWrecking and demolitionAbrasive blastingMasonryConcrete finishingDrywall finishingRock drillingStone milling or cuttingMiningSand and gravel screeningRock crushing (for road base)AgricultureCeramics, clay, potteryGlass manufacturingVitreous enameling of china plumbing fixturesManufacturing of soaps and detergentsShipyards, railroads
Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to 2 years after exposure: Shortness of breathSevere coughWeaknessFeverWeight lossNight sweatsChest painsRespiratory failure
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. You will also be asked about your work history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
Chest x-ray—to look for abnormalities in your lungs
Pulmonary function tests—to look for problems with your lung function
(TB)—since people with silicosis are susceptible to developing TB
Peak Flow Meter—Pulmonary Function Test
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There is no specific treatment for silicosis. If you have acute silicosis, you will be advised to avoid additional exposure. Your doctor may also treat other conditions associated with acute silicosis. These may include blockage or airway narrowing. You will also be advised to avoid
To help reduce your chance of silicosis: Avoid working in dust whenever possible.Use water sprays and ventilation when working in confined structures.If applicable, wear a mask or respirator designed for protection against crystalline silica and the type of job you do. Your employer may provide the mask.You cannot have a beard or mustache if you use certain types of tight-fitting respiratory masks.Take advantage of health screenings offered by your employer.Practice good personal hygiene in the workplace.Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco near dusty areas.After exposure to dust, wash your hands before eating, drinking, or smoking.Park your car where it will not become contaminated.Shower and change before leaving work.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Interstitial lung disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 4, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Silicosis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/environmental-pulmonary-diseases/silicosis. Updated May 2014. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Silicosis: Learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-108. Updated June 6, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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