FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is crystalline silica?
What are the health effects of silicosis?
How can I be exposed to silica dust?
What can I do to prevent silicosis?
How does silicosis develop?
When does silicosis develop?
What are the signs and symptoms of silicosis?
How is silicosis diagnosed?
How is silicosis treated?
What are the complicating factors of silicosis?
What can be done to control silica exposure?
What can you do about silicosis?
Silicosis is an occupational
lung disease that is caused by inhalation of silica dust. This respiratory
disease is caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica (a component
of silica dust), which leads to inflammation of the lung tissue. This
inflammation leads to scar tissue formation on the lungs, also known
as nodules, which obstruct the flow of oxygen into the lungs and into
is crystalline silica?
Silica, or silicon dioxide, is a naturally occurring mineral that is
composed of one silicon atom and two oxygen atoms. When silica molecules
line up and create a repeating pattern they form a crystal (crystalline
silica). Different crystal patterns are given different names; the most
common is quartz. Silica is a major component of sand and granite.
are the health effects of Silicosis?
Health effects of silicosis include shortness of breath, coughing, chest
pain, fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite. In addition to these symptoms,
silicosis patients are at an increased risk for tuberculosis, heart
disease, lung cancer, and connective tissue disease.
can I be exposed to silica dust?
Silica exposure occurs when dust that contains crystalline silica particles
is inhaled. Silica exposure most often occurs in people who work in
construction, mining, sandblasting, stonecutting, abrasives manufacturing,
and in people who work with glass, pottery, and on railroads.
can I do to prevent Silicosis?
Although there is no cure for silicosis, it can be prevented with occupational
safety measures. There has been a marked decrease in the number of silicosis
cases since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
implemented regulations that require the use of protective equipment
when working with silica dust. Read about silicosis prevention measures
does silicosis develop?
Breathing in silica dust causes silicosis by damaging an area of the
lungs called the air sac. The presence of silica dust in the air sac
of the lungs causes a body defense reaction that results in the formation
of scar tissue in the lungs. This scar tissue can limit the ability
of the lungs to stretch, thereby limiting the amount of air that can
be breathed in. It is important to know that you do not have to see
silica dust to breathe it into your lungs. Because the silica dust particles
that are able to reach deep into your lungs and cause damage are so
small, it is impossible to see them.
does silicosis develop?
Silicosis is normally not apparent until 20 years or more after the
first exposure to silica has occurred. After exposure to heavy concentrations
of silica dust, the development of silicosis may occur before 20 years.
After an exposure to extremely high concentrations, such as in operations
in confined spaces, a rare acute reaction can occur in 1-3 years.The
rate at which silicosis progresses is related to the length and level
of exposure to silica. The disease may progress even after exposure
has stopped. Therefore, it is extremely important to prevent excessive
exposure to silica dust.
are the signs and symptoms of silicosis?
At its earliest stage, silicosis can be seen as scarring on the x-ray
without symptoms. As the disease progresses, the symptoms include frequent
dry coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and increased tiredness.
These symptoms will become worse in advanced stages until death results
from respiratory failure (lungs are no longer able to function), heart
failure, pneumonia or other complications.
is silicosis diagnosed?
The diagnosis of silicosis is accomplished by obtaining a complete occupational
history, chest x-rays, and lung function testing. It is very important
that workers exposed to silica dust have chest x-rays at least every
3-5 years. These x-rays should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional
experienced in reading for silicosis to detect the disease in its early
stages. Lung function tests should be conducted every year by a qualified
technician or physician. These tests will track any changes in the worker's
ability to breathe.
is silicosis treated?
There is no known medical treatment to reverse silicosis. Antibiotics
to reduce the severity of lung infections and check ups for tuberculosis
can reduce the complications of silicosis. However, prevention of exposure
is the best method of protection.
are the complicating factors of silicosis?
Victims of silicosis are known to be susceptible to tuberculosis.
The reason for this is debated by scientists but it appears likely
that silicosis weakens the defense system of the lungs to bacterial
the exact cause is not known, individuals with silicosis have an increased
chance of getting lung cancer.
severe silicosis, in addition to the direct effects on your lungs,
the presence of scar tissue in the lungs also affects the heart. Your
heart must work harder to move blood to all the areas of your body.
This type of strain on the heart increases the risk of heart failure.
Many victims of silicosis will actually die from heart attacks, rather
disorders caused by changes in the immune system may be increased
in individuals with silicosis. Systemic sclerosis is reported to occur
more frequently in individuals with silicosis.
smoking and lung conditions such as asbestosis can cause an additive
crippling effect on your lungs when combined with silicosis. Because
of this, a worker who has an existing lung disease should never be
assigned to an area where there are high silica exposures. Additionally,
a worker with silicosis should not be placed in an environment or
be exposed to other agents that might cause other damage to the lung.
can be done to control silica exposure?
Methods to control silica exposure include:
of the toxic material
of a less toxic material
or enclosure of any dirty operations
of local exhaust ventilation
maintenance, housekeeping and hygiene practices
in work practices to avoid breathing in silica dust
should be provided and used by the employee as short-term protection
when exposure to toxic materials is suspected. Respirators, however,
should not be used as the only method of control.
can you do about silicosis?
If you obtain information that indicates a silica problem and your employer
does not correct the problem, you can contact two agencies to obtain
assistance: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
or your State Department of Health. OSHA is responsible for enforcement
of federal safety and health regulations, including a regulation requiring
employers to keep silica dust levels below permissible exposure limits.
you have already been diagnosed with silicosis, you should contact an
experienced silicosis attorney as soon as possible.
a Silicosis Attorney