by Rick Alan
Berylliosis is an occupational lung disease. It occurs in people who work with beryllium. Berylliosis usually only occurs in people who have an allergic sensitivity to beryllium. This is about 2% of the US population.
Beryllium is a metallic element that is found in rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust. It is used in certain industries.
There are two types of berylliosis: acute and chronic.
Berylliosis is caused by inhalation or other exposure (such as through an open skin wound) to beryllium dust or fumes.
Acute berylliosis is caused by brief exposure. It is very rare today. Chronic berylliosis is caused by long-term exposure. It is more common than acute, but still relatively unusual.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. The primary risk factor for berylliosis is working in an area where beryllium is processed. Industries that use beryllium include:
Although the risk is extremely low, people who live near such industries have a slightly higher risk of getting berylliosis than those who do not.
Symptoms of acute berylliosis come on suddenly and rapidly. The main symptoms are due to severe lung inflammation. These symptoms include:
Symptoms of chronic berylliosis develop slowly. Sometimes, symptoms may not appear until many years after exposure to beryllium. Chronic berylliosis produces two main pathologic changes:
In severe cases, berylliosis may lead to heart failure.
Symptoms of chronic berylliosis may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:
Symptoms of chronic berylliosis may not appear until years after exposure. Therefore, all workers who may have been exposed to beryllium should have BeLPT tests, even if they have no symptoms.
The most important step in the management of berylliosis is to avoid further exposure to beryllium.
For acute berylliosis, you may be given corticosteroid medication, usually prednisone. This drug helps to reduce lung inflammation. When treated rapidly, most patients recover fully. But in extreme cases, if not treated rapidly, acute berylliosis can be fatal.
For chronic berylliosis, corticosteroids may be used if you develop symptoms of lung disease. However, these medications do not reverse scarring that has already occurred in the lungs.
Avoiding or limiting exposure to beryllium is the best way to prevent berylliosis. To do so, do the following:
American Lung Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Jewish Medical and Research Center
The Canadian Lung Association
Centers for Disease Control. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov .
The Merck Manual of Medical Information . Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2003.
National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Available at: http://www.nationaljewish.org .
Last reviewed [Under Medical Review] by Tajender S. Vasu, MD
Last Updated: 9/1/2011