What is Silicosis?


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A fine dust is created when working with materials which contain silica, and when this dust is inhaled, it can cause damage to the tissue in the lungs. This is called silicosis. It is also sometimes referred to as 'miner’s phthisis', 'grinder’s asthma' and 'potter’s rot'.

The dust from certain materials contain silica particles which are fine, sharp particles. These particles cause cuts and abrasions on the lungs which then lead to inflammation and scarring.

People who are at risk of developing silicosis after exposure to silica dust are those who work in the quarrying, mining, construction, glass, sandblasting and ceramic industries.

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What is silica?

Silica, which is often referred to as ‘quartz’, is a natural mineral found in many materials such as rocks, soil, sand, concrete, granite and other landscaping materials.

Those who work with materials which contain silica are at risk of developing silicosis.

Symptoms of silicosis

Once silicosis has been contracted, the damage to the lungs is irreversible and the silica continues to cause damage to the lungs even after the exposure has ended.

The main symptoms of silicosis are:

  • A persistent cough
  • A shortness of breath
  • Weakness and tiredness

As the condition worsens, sufferers may find it extremely difficult to do normal task like getting dressed or climbing stairs. Due to this, it is common for people to be largely confined to their home or bed.

Acute, Chronic and Accelerated Silicosis

Unlike many industrial diseases, silicosis does not occur immediately after exposure, and in most cases, it takes years. It takes around 10-20 years of exposure to silica for the condition to develop (chronic silicosis), however there have been cases where 5-10 years of exposure have led to silicosis.

In addition, there are cases where just a few months of exposure have brought on the condition (acute silicosis), though this is usually months of extremely heavy exposure.

Acute silicosis

Acute silicosis is the least common type and occurs when people have been exposed to a large amount of silica over a short period of time. The symptoms of acute silicosis are usually quite severe and include a fluid build-up on the lungs and low blood oxygen levels.

Those who suffer with acute silicosis are more at risk of developing lung cancer, kidney disease, tuberculosis (TB), arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In extremely severe cases, acute silicosis has been known to lead to death.

Chronic silicosis

People who suffer with chronic silicosis are those who have been exposed to silica over a long period of time, usually decades.

In the early days, chronic silicosis usually presents no symptoms, but over time, the continuous damage to the lungs will show itself in difficulty breathing (during physical exertion and whilst resting). Other symptoms include fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

In severe cases of chronic silicosis, respiratory failure is an end result.

Accelerated silicosis

Accelerated silicosis is very similar to chronic silicosis in that sufferers tend to contract it after years of exposure to silica. The symptoms for accelerated silicosis are the same as for chronic, the only difference is that symptoms appear much sooner – as the name would suggest.

Diagnosing silicosis

If you have been exposed to silica, both recently or a long time ago, and are having symptoms which suggest it has caused damage to your lungs, you should see a GP as soon as possible, making sure to tell them in detail about your symptoms and work history.

If your doctor suspects silicosis, he/she will refer you to a specialist for tests such as chest x-rays, CT scans and lung function tests, which will assist in a diagnosis.

Treating silicosis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for silicosis as the damage done to the lungs by inhaling silica dust cannot be reversed.

There are steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of sufferers developing further health conditions and diseases, whilst also trying to improve quality of life. These include:

  • Making sure there is no further exposure to silica
  • Stopping smoking
  • Being checked regularly for TB (as sufferers are likely to contract the disease)
  • Having the annual flu jab and pneumococcal vaccination

For sufferers who have a particularly low level of oxygen in their blood and who are having extreme difficulty breathing, long-term oxygen therapy is commonly offered.

Medicines may also be prescribed to help widen airways to help a suffered breathe. Antibiotics will be prescribed if a suffered develops a bacterial chest infection.

In very severe cases, a lung transplant may be an option.

Can I make a claim for silicosis?

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis which is a result of exposure to silica due to someone else’s negligence, then you may be entitled to make a claim.

Get in touch with CL Legal today to start your claim:

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