Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that contains crystalline silica. In acute silicosis, the disease occurs after just weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of the silica. This is a serious condition. Contact your doctor immediately if you think you may have it.
Crystalline silica can be found in:
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 builds up 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 two years after exposure. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to this condition. These may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor:
Shortness of breathSevere coughWeaknessFeverWeight lossNight sweatsChest painsRespiratory failure
Your doctor will ask 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:
—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 heart disease and TB. You will also be advised to stop
If your job puts you at risk of being exposed to silica dust, take the following steps to help prevent silicosis:
Avoid working in dust whenever possible.Use water sprays and ventilation when working in confined structures. (eg, wet dust with a water hose, use saws and drills that add water)If applicable, wear your respirator designed for protection against crystalline silica. You cannot have a beard or mustache if you use a tight-fitting respiratory. Your employer may provide the mask.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.
Silicosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
November 28, 2006.
Silicosis: learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at:
November 28, 3006.
What physicians need to know about occupational silicosis and silica exposure sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed November 28, 3006.
Last reviewed February 2014 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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