Definition

Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that has crystalline silica in it. In acute silicosis, the disease happens after weeks or months of being around high levels of silica.

Causes

Silica dust can come from cutting, drilling, breaking, or grinding soil, sand, granite, or other items. It becomes trapped in the lungs when the dust gets in the air that people breathe.

Pathway to Lungs
Respiratory Pathway

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Risk Factors

The risk is higher in people who spend time around air that has silica dust in it. Jobs that involve these tasks also raise the risk:

  • Sandblasting
  • Construction
  • Wrecking and demolition
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Masonry
  • Concrete finishing
  • Drywall finishing
  • Rock drilling
  • Stone milling or cutting
  • Mining
  • Sand and gravel screening
  • Rock crushing (for road base)
  • Agriculture
  • Ceramics, clay, pottery
  • Glassmaking
  • Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
  • Making soaps and detergents

Symptoms

Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to five years after exposure.

Problems may be:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your work history. A physical exam will be done.

Pictures may be taken to look for signs of damage. This can be done with a chest x-ray.

Pulmonary Function Test
Lung test

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Treatment

There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to avoid silica dust. Other options are:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Medicines to improve air flow, ease cough, or treat infection
  • Oxygen therapy to support breathing
  • Lung rehabilitation
  • A lung transplant

Prevention

The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Avoiding air that has silica dust in it
  • Wearing a mask or respirator on the job to avoid breathing in air that has silica dust in it
  • Working in well-ventilated areas
RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

Occupational Safety and Health Administration—US Department of Labor
https://www.osha.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
http://www.ccohs.ca

Canadian Lung Association
http://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

Fernández Álvarez R, Martínez González C, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and monitoring of silicosis. Arch Bronconeumol. 2015 Feb;51(2):86-93.

Silicosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/silicosis. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Silicosis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/environmental-pulmonary-diseases/silicosis. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Silicosis: Learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-108. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD  Last Updated: 10/27/2020