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Berylliosis

(Beryllium Disease)

Definition

Berylliosis is a lung disease due to beryllium exposure. Beryllium is a metal found in rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust. It is used in certain industries.

The two types of berylliosis are:

  • Acute—caused by brief exposure
  • Chronic—caused by long-term exposure

Causes

Berylliosis is caused by:

  • Inhaling beryllium dust or fumes
  • Other exposure—such as through an open skin wound
  • A sensitivity to beryllium

Risk Factors

The risk of this condition is highest in those who work near beryllium. Beryllium is used to make many items. Some examples are:

  • Electronics
  • Bicycles
  • Microwaves
  • Mirrors
  • Cars
  • Fiber optics

Symptoms

Symptoms of acute berylliosis come on quickly. With the chronic type, symptoms come on slowly. Symptoms may be:

  • Coughing, possibly with blood
  • Chest pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling very tried

Inflammation in Lungs
Inflammed Lung and asthma

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Chronic berylliosis leads to scarring of the lungs. It also leads to inflamed masses in the lungs called granulomas. In severe cases, it may lead toheart failure.

Diagnosis

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

Diagnosis is based on:

  • A blood test called BeLPT (beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test)—shows sensitivity to beryllium
  • Lung biopsy—a sample of lung tissue is taken and tested for granulomas

Other tests may include:

Treatment

The goal is to reduce inflammation and damage to the lungs. The first step is to avoid further exposure to beryllium.

Berylliosis is treated with corticosteroids. This medicine helps reduce lung inflammation.

Most recover from acute berylliosis if treated quickly. Extreme cases can be deadly if not treated right away.

In chronic berylliosis, medicine helps manage symptoms. However, it cannot reverse scarring in the lungs.

Prevention

The best way to reduce the risk is to avoid beryllium. If that is not possible, exposure may be reduced by:

  • Using protective clothing, respirators and good ventilation—in areas with beryllium dust or fumes
  • Not eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where beryllium is used
  • Showering after working with beryllium
RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
http://www.lung.org

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

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

The Lung Association
https://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

Beryllium. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website. Available at: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/beryllium.html. Accessed March 21, 2021.

Berylliosis. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/berylliosis. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Beryllium. US Department of Labor—Occupational Safety and Health Administration website. Available at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/beryllium/index.html. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Chronic beryllium disease. National Jewish Health website. Available at: https://www.nationaljewish.org/conditions/beryllium-disease. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Chronic beryllium disease. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/chronic_beryllium_disease/index.html. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Fontenot AP. Immunologic effects of beryllium exposure. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018;15(Suppl 2):S81-S85.

Interstitial lung disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/interstitial-lung-disease. Accessed March 26, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/26/2021