Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe levels of silica dust.
People who work with certain materials may inhale very fine dust that contains silica. Once inside the lungs, the dust particles can scar the lungs. This scarring is known as silicosis.
There are three common types of silicosis. All affect you in the same way. However, the difference is how long it takes for problems to develop.
- chronic silicosis — exposure to silica dust for more than 10 years
- accelerated silicosis — exposure to silica dust for 3 to 10 years
- acute silicosis — develops within weeks or months of exposure to silica dust
What are the symptoms of silicosis?
The main symptoms of silicosis are shortness of breath after exercising, chest pain, a harsh, dry cough and tiredness. But in the early stages of silicosis, there may be no symptoms.
The symptoms become severe as the condition gets worse. Eventually, you might find simple activities such as walking or climbing stairs difficult. You might also have trouble sleeping and eating properly.
Silicosis can also increase the risk of getting other severe conditions such as tuberculosis (TB), chest infections, emphysema, kidney damage and lung cancer.
If you develop the symptoms of silicosis, make an urgent appointment with your doctor if you work or have worked with products that create silica dust.
According to HealthDirect, you are at risk of silicosis if you work with quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar, bitumen or engineered stone products.
How is silicosis diagnosed?
At the appointment, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and work history. The doctor will examine you and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope.
Tell the doctor about exposure to silica dust and whether you were issued with any safety equipment, such as a face mask, when you were working.
The doctor may send you for tests such as:
- a chest x-ray to look for abnormalities in your lungs
- a CT scan of your chest to produce more detailed images of your lungs
- lung function testing (spirometry) to see how well your lungs are working
Can silicosis be prevented?
Silicosis can be prevented by:
- avoiding prolonged exposure to silica dust
- wearing protective respiratory masks (but not disposable paper ones)
- wetting down tools and materials to suppress dust
- using tools that have dust-collecting attachments
All workplaces, employers and employees in Australia must comply with their workplace health and safety procedures.
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