Berylliosis is an inflammation of the lungs caused by inhaling the metal Beryllium. Beryllium is a metallic element which is present in volcanic dust, dirt and coal.
It is used in industry for various reasons, including manufacturing the following products:
• Microwave ovens;
• Fiber optics;
• Bicycle parts; and
• Sports equipment.
Scientists also use it for space engineering and it is used by the nuclear power industry in developing nuclear energy stations and atomic weapons and by the medical profession in dentistry.
Miners are also at risk of Berylliosis by mining Beryllium for these purposes, as are people who work at recycling plants and recycle old metal.
The risk of developing the disease is quite high for workers in any of these fields, with between two and six people per 100, developing Berylliosis.
• Shortness of breath;
• Chest pain;
• Weight loss, even when eating normally; and
• Joint and muscle aches.
The lungs become hyper-sensitive to Beryllium and as an allergic response, develop granulomas, which are small nodules or lumps. As the lungs become full of granulomas, there is less space for oxygen which is what causes the person’s symptoms. However, the symptoms are seen in many other illnesses and granulomas are also present in sufferers of tuberculosis (TB) so it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.
Berylliosis is only considered if the person has a history of exposure to Beryllium. If the doctor suspects that he may have Berylliosis, he will order a chest X-ray to see if there are nodules or inflammation in the lungs. If so, he will then do a blood test. Very often, sufferers of Berylliosis are allergic to Beryllium so they will show antibodies to it in their blood.
Corticosteroids can be given to reduce inflammation in the lungs and allow the person to breathe more easily. These would be given on a regular basis, in the same way that an asthma patient uses his inhaler regularly. Most people are ‘recovered’ after a fortnight as long as they continue their medication.