What is silicosis?

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Silicosis is a lung disorder brought about by inhaling traces of silica which is a mineral that is a component of rock, sand and mineral ores such as quartz. The condition typically affects individuals who are exposed to silica dust in certain occupations such as mining, foundry work and glass manufacturing. Over time, exposure to silica causes scarring in the lungs that can disrupt with the ability to breathe.

Type of silicosis

  • Acute – causes fatigue, cough and weight loss within a few weeks or years of exposure to silica.
  • Chronic – manifests 10-30 years after being exposed and can involve the upper lungs and oftentimes results to significant scarring.
  • Accelerated silicosis – develops within 10 years of extensive exposure to silica.
    Silicosis
    In acute cases, there is fever and piercing chest pain along with difficulty breathing.

It is important to note that silicosis can develop in a few weeks or even decades after exposure. Once silica dust is inhaled, tiny particles of the silica are breathed in. This dust can buildup and scar the lung tissues which disrupts with the ability to breathe. Over time, symptoms such as lung scarring, fatigue and weight loss occurs.

What are the indications?

The signs and symptoms of silicosis tend to manifest a few weeks up to years after being exposed to silica dust. The symptoms usually worsen over time as lung scarring occurs. Coughing is an early indication and develops over time along with exposure to silica.

In acute cases, there is fever and piercing chest pain along with difficulty breathing. These symptoms typically occur abruptly.

As for chronic silicosis, there is an abnormal chest X-ray and the individual steadily develops coughing and difficulty breathing. Many individuals will develop phlegm production and cough. Over time, symptoms comparable to chronic bronchitis develops and the lungs produce additional sounds known as crackles. Once extensive scarring progresses, there are indications of chronic lung disease such as leg swelling, bluish discoloration of the lips and rapid breathing rate.

Management

There is no cure for silicosis and prevention is usually advised. Once the condition develops, the doctor will assess the extent of lung damage. Some individuals might require immediate treatment with oxygen and support for breathing. Others need medications to reduce sputum production such as inhaled steroids. In addition, inhaled bronchodilators are needed to promote relaxation of the air tubes.

The disease can be prevented from worsening by avoiding additional sources of silica or other irritants such as smoke, air pollution and allergens.

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