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Silicosis: The lung disease lurking at work

One lung disease you may have been exposed to if you work with sand or quartz is known as silicosis. This disease affects workers who have been exposed to silica dust in the workplace. Usually, it's those who work in glass manufacturing, foundries or mining that have the highest rates of exposure to silica.

There are three kinds of silicosis you could be faced with. These include chronic, accelerated and acute. There is unfortunately no cure for this disease once it has developed, but there are preventative measures that can be taken to prevent workers from developing it in the first place.

How soon can silicosis form in the lungs?

Acute silicosis occurs after a few weeks or years of exposure to silica. The silica, which must be inhaled, causes fatigue, weight loss and a cough. Comparatively, accelerated silicosis occurs after high-level exposure within around 10 years. Chronic silicosis, the third type, occurs 10 to 30 years after initial exposure and can lead to scarring in the lungs.

Silica dust is dangerous because it causes fluid build up and scar tissue in the lungs. The small air sacs have their lining damaged. At that point, progressive massive fibrosis occurs. Severe scarring leads to a lung with a more rigid structure. This makes it hard to breathe, since the lung is no longer flexible.

What should you do if you're exposed to silica?

Make sure you seek medical attention if you're exposed to silica. It's still present in many workplaces, but managing it with proper ventilation and safety equipment helps protect workers. If you develop silicosis, you can seek out workers' compensation.

Source: American Lung Association, "Learn About Silicosis," accessed March 16, 2017

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