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:
- Other abrasives
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
Working in the following occupations increases your chance of acute silicosis:
- Sandblasting (the most common cause of acute silicosis)
- Wrecking and demolition
- Abrasive blasting
- Concrete finishing
- Drywall finishing
- Rock drilling
- Stone milling or cutting
- Sand and gravel screening
- Rock crushing (for road base)
- Ceramics, clay, pottery
- Glass manufacturing
- Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
- Manufacturing of soaps and detergents
- Shipyards, railroads
Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to two years after exposure:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe cough
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Chest pains
- Respiratory 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:
- Chest x-ray —to look for abnormalities in your lungs
- Pulmonary function tests —to look for problems with your lung function
- Tests for tuberculosis (TB)—since people with silicosis are susceptible to developing TB
Peak Flow Meter—Pulmonary Function Test
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 smoking.
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 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.
Nationals Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety
The Lung Association
Silicosis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/environmental-pulmonary-diseases/silicosis. Updated May 2014. Accessed June 30, 2015.
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 June 30, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 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.