Working in certain industries exposes you to chemicals and substances that can sometimes can be harmful to your health. Acute silicosis is a respiratory disease that occurs when silica dust particles are inhaled. It causes scarring and fluid buildup in the lungs. Symptoms of acute silicosis appear quickly and can cause death in only a few months. Acute silicosis can develop within a few weeks. It’s a very serious disease that needs medical attention immediately. It’s also possible to have chronic silicosis. Consult with your healthcare provider as soon as you suspect you have this respiratory ailment.
Silica is among the most common elements on the planet. It is present in nearly all rock, sand, and quartz. People who work in jobs involving these materials are at a higher risk for developing acute silicosis. Inhaling the silica dust can cause fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts down your ability to breathe.
Jobs that increase your risk for acute silicosis include:
- bridge and highway construction
- bridge and highway repair
- sand blasting
If you work in these fields, you are probably breathing silica dust when earthen items are crushed or broken. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) require the use of protective equipment limiting your exposure to harmful dust.
In the case of acute silicosis, symptoms typically appear within a few weeks or months after exposure to large amounts of silica. These symptoms may resemble those of other conditions. But if you work in an industry that exposes you to silica, you may want to consult your doctor if you start experiencing:
- chest pain
- severe shortness of breath
- low blood oxygen levels
- night sweats
- weight loss
If you suspect that you have acute silicosis, keep track of your symptoms. The information may help your doctor determine your diagnosis.
Your doctor will ask about your medical and work history as well as the hobbies you enjoy. This will help determine the activities that may have allowed for silica exposure. A physical exam is typically performed. Your doctor may also do pulmonary function tests, tuberculosis tests, and a chest x-ray to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
At this time there is no specific treatment for acute silicosis. It is simply a matter of avoiding future exposure to silica. Your physician may prescribe medications like bronchodilators, cough medicines, and even oxygen, to help you breathe easier. If you get a lung infection because of your acute silicosis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. It may also be wise to avoid anything that may irritate the lungs like pollution, and indoor and outdoor allergens. If you are a smoker, it is best to quit as soon as possible. Your doctor may also suggest you get tested regularly for tuberculosis since acute silicosis may interfere with your body’s natural defenses against TB.
Acute silicosis is preventable. If your job has the potential for silica exposure, your employer is required by OHSA law to provide you with the proper protective equipment. Make sure that you use your protective equipment at all times to keep from inhaling dust. Some other things you can do to protect yourself are:
- When working in enclosed spaces use water sprays to limit airborne dust, and make sure there is adequate ventilation.
- Wear a respirator if one s provided by your employer whenever you work in an environment with silica.
- Wash your hands after silica exposure to prevent eating, smoking, or drinking it accidentally.
- Take advantage of any health screenings your job provides, so health problems can be detected early on.
- Try to shower or at least change clothes before going home to your family. You don’t want to inadvertently expose anyone to the harmful dust.
- If possible, park your car in a safe area. Silica dust can easily enter through the vents in your car and be inhaled.
- Find out what materials at your job produce silica dust, and limit your exposure. Just because you can’t see the dust doesn’t mean it isn’t in the air surrounding you. Wear protective equipment and do your best to avoid exposed areas whenever possible.