Silicosis is a lung disease brought on by exposure to crystalline silica, primarily through the person's occupation, such as mining, quarrying, tunnelling, construction, drilling, sandblasting and grinding to make pottery items.
There are several different types of silicosis.
Acute silicosis occurs after relatively short term exposure to silica (anything from a few months to two years). Silica particles are inhaled and imbed themselves into the lungs, causing inflammation and scarring. Symptoms include: severe coughing, fever, weight loss, breathlessness and low blood/oxygen levels. On medical examination there will be fluid on the lungs.
Other types of silicosis are:
Asymptomatic or simple Silicosis - this is a very mild form of the disease that often has no symptoms at all. Sometimes there will be a persistent cough with mucus. Doctors can misdiagnose this condition due to it having similar symptoms to bronchitis;
Chronic, Complicated Silicosis - This is worse than the simple form. In addition to the mucus cough the sufferer will also lose weight and feel very tired. This can occur decades after the initial exposure; and
Accelerated Silicosis - this develops after a fairly short period of time (within 5 to 10 years). Symptoms are weight loss, weakness and tiredness and severe difficulty breathing.
Only people with an occupational history involving silica are considered to be at risk from silicosis. If you work in any of the above mentioned fields and you are suffering respiratory and other symptoms, your doctor can run tests confirm whether you have the disease. He will first examine you to see how well you can breath, your rate of breathing, whether you can expand your chest and your general condition.
Pulmonary Function Test - this will be done to see how much air is getting into your lungs. If you have decreased lung capacity, this is an indicator of silicosis
X-ray - a chest X-ray will be done to see the inside of the lungs. If there are nodules present, this is an indicator of silicosis; and
A CT scan can provide clearer images of the nodules to assist medical staff with your diagnosis.
How Many People Have Silicosis?
In America it is estimated that there are 59,000 people with silicosis. Thankfully it is a relatively rare disease. There are around 300 deaths due to silicosis recorded every year. It is more common in poorer countries.
How Can I Avoid Becoming Ill?
If you work in a high risk field, there are certain health and safety measures you can take to reduce your exposure, such as wearing a mask. Some research also shows that if the area is sprayed with water prior to being mined or quarryed, then this reduces the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Talk to your employer as there may be other safety measures you can take to protect yourself.
Don't smoke cannabis, apart from being illegal, it is sometimes contaminated with silica particles which can cause silicosis.
Don't smoke cigarettes, this increases your suceptibility to respiratory diseases of all kinds, particularly if you also work in a high risk environment.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.
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