What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a disease that is caused by exposure to free silica, commonly known as silica dust. When inhaled, quartz dust is deposited in the lungs. This condition is incurable but preventable.

Silicosis is a debilitating and often fatal lung disease most common among workers whose working environment is in mines, tunnels, quarries, foundries, etc.

What causes it?

Any exposure to crystalline silica can lead to silicosis. Men are more often affected by this disease because they more often work in environments with high concentrations of quartz sand.

Three forms of silicosis are distinguished, which are determined based on the concentration of quartz dust in the air:

  • Acute – develops from several weeks to several months after exposure to an environment with a high concentration of quartz dust. The affected person’s condition may deteriorate rapidly.
  • Accelerated – occurs within 5 to 10 years of exposure.
  • < strong>Chronic – develops 10 or more years after inhalation of free silica. Even a lower concentration of quartz dust in the air, when inhaled for a long time, can cause this form of the disease.

Quartz dust particles act like small blades on the lungs. When silica is inhaled through the nose or mouth, the sharp particles become lodged and can injure lung tissue.

Free silica is considered carcinogenic. This means that quartz dust can cause lung cancer.

What are the symptoms of silicosis?

Symptoms of silicosis are varied and develop gradually after a long period of exposure to silicate dusts.

In the early stages of the disease, however, affected individuals usually do not exhibit the characteristic symptoms, which often makes the diagnosis of silicosis difficult.

One of the first symptoms that appear in some patients is a strong cough. This cough is often prolonged and does not respond well to treatment with ordinary cough syrups.

Coughing is caused by inflammation and tissue breakdown in the lungs, which leads to the accumulation of microscopic particles and infections.

Another common symptom is fatigue. Silicosis patients often feel exhausted and without energy. This is due to the fact that the lungs cannot function normally due to damaged tissue and inflammation.

Loss of appetite is another symptom seen in some patients with silicosis. This symptom can lead to reduced body weight and malnutrition.

Fever may also be present in some patients with silicosis, especially those with lung infections. A fever is a signal that the body’s immune system is fighting the infection.

Cyanosis, or bluing of the skin, can occur in the advanced stages of silicosis. This is due to insufficient oxygen saturation of the blood, due to which the patient’s skin and lips acquire a bluish tint.

Stabbing chest pains are associated with inflammation and accompanying infections. These pains can be sharp and unpleasant, increasing the suffering of the patient.

Shortness of breath on exertion is a common symptom in individuals with silicosis, as inflammation and increased weight in the lungs make breathing more difficult, especially with exertion.

Unusually frequent respiratory infections are also part of the clinical picture of silicosis. Lung infections occur more easily due to disturbances in the protective mechanisms of the respiratory system, which are impaired in silicosis.

Sometimes the symptoms of silicosis can be mild or even absent in the early stages of the disease, making diagnosis difficult.

Treatment of silicosis

There is no established specific therapy for the disease. The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms. Cough suppressants relieve a strong cough and phlegm that usually makes breathing difficult.

Antibiotics relieve respiratory tract infections. Inhalers may be used to open the airways. In some cases, it is necessary to wear oxygen masks to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Those affected by silicosis should avoid further exposure to silica. Smoking damages lung tissue, so quitting can relieve symptoms.

Sufferers of the disease are exposed to a higher risk of tuberculosis and therefore their condition must be monitored regularly. Some doctors may prescribe drugs to treat tuberculosis.

If the disease progresses and particularly severe symptoms occur, a lung transplant may be necessary.

Silicosis – how to protect yourself

  • Workers must wear special respiratory masks that prevent inhalation of fine quartz dust particles.
  • Wet cutting methods reduce the risk of inhaling silica. Workplaces must meet the legally established standards for health and safety at work. This necessarily includes proper ventilation of work rooms with an increased concentration of quartz sand in the air. Employers have a duty to regularly monitor workplace air quality indicators to ensure that crystalline silica levels are not elevated. Employers are required to report all diagnosed cases of silicosis to the government authorities that monitor compliance with occupational health and safety standards.
  • Workers must eat and drink water away from an environment with an increased concentration of quartz dust. They should wash their hands before eating or drinking water to remove quartz dust from their hands.

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