The American Lung Association defines silicosis as a chronic lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica dust. The World Health Organization maintains it is one of the oldest occupational diseases, and still kills thousands of people every year, everywhere in the world.

The US National Library of Medicine calls it the “The King of Occupational Diseases.”

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Who can catch silicosis?

Because it is the second most common mineral on earth, being exposed to silica is commonplace. In fact as we said in a past article, every construction site is in no shortage of it.

In the US alone, approximately 2 million workers are occupationally exposed to crystalline silica. According to the American Lung Association, over 100,000 of them are involved in the following sub-industries, and are therefore at a huge risk of catching the disease: highway and bridge construction and repair, building construction, demolition, and repair, abrasive blasting, masonry work, concrete finishing, drywall finishing, rock drilling, mining, sand and gravel screening, and rock crushing.

What are the symptoms of silicosis?

The following are the symptoms of silicosis: severe cough, shortness of breath, sudden weakness and weight loss, fever, chest pains, respiratory failure, and night sweats. If you experience any of these, be sure to consult your doctor.

Chronic silicosis results from long-term exposure of at least 10 years to fairly low amounts of silica dust while accelerated silicosis develops after 4-10 years of exposure to higher amounts. The rarest of the three, acute silicosis, develops in much lesser period of time but to much higher amounts. The symptoms may show after only a few weeks of exposure.

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Is it really serious?

When it comes to treatment, you can only go as far as relieving the symptoms and addressing the infections brought about by the disease, because until now, there is still no known cure for silicosis. It is, however, preventable (we will tackle safety measures in the next article).

Depending on the type, silicosis can get very serious, and of course, with weakening lungs, you can be more susceptible to other severe illnesses, the most common of which is pulmonary tuberculosis.


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