Silicosis is a disease that results from inhaling microscopic pieces of silica. Even if you can’t see or feel them, they can still cause serious damage once they get inside you’re body, especially in the lungs. Having those tiny, sharp foreign objects floating around in your body can cause scarring in the lungs, as well as inflammation and fluid buildup. This makes it more difficult to breathe and is usually accompanied by coughing, fatigue, and weight loss.
Silica is a mineral that is found in rocks and mineral ores (like quarts) and sand. People who work in mining, foundry work, and glass manufacturing are the most likely to suffer from silicosis. Symptoms of silicosis can start appearing anywhere from a few weeks after exposure to decades after exposure. There is no cure for silicosis, but it can be prevented.
There are three types of silicosis: acute, chronic, and accelerated. Symptoms of acute silicosis include cough, fatigue, and weight loss. The lungs are very inflamed and may fill with fluid, resulting in shortness of breath and low levels of oxygen in the blood (which, in turn, leads to fatigue). Those with acute silicosis start experiencing symptoms anywhere from weeks to a few years after they’ve been exposed to loose silica.
Chronic silicosis doesn’t appear until 10 years after exposure and might not even become apparent until as late as 30 years after exposure. Chronic silicosis usually affects the upper lungs and tends to include extensive scarring, as well as swelling in the chest lymph nodes and lungs, making breathing difficult.
Accelerated silicosis results from high levels of exposure to silica and begins showing symptoms within 10 years of exposure. It is also characterized by swelling in the lungs, but it happens much more quickly than chronic silicosis.
As the disease progresses, lung capacity decreases, along with the person’s ability to breathe on their own. Some may need an oxygen tank or other support to help them breathe once their breathing has been so impaired by the silicosis that they become incapable of drawing in enough air to live on.
Silicosis does extensive and permanent damage to the lungs, resulting in more than 100 deaths every year in the United States alone. There is currently no cure for silicosis but, with a few precautions, it can be easily prevented. Today, approximately 2 million workers in the United States are being exposed to silica as part of their daily work responsibilities. Even if they don’t yet notice any negative effects from working with sand, quartz or glass, in a few years they may find it hard to complete everyday tasks as a result of shortness of breath and/or fatigue.
All it takes is a few minutes for workers to put on protective gear before entering an area where they may be exposed to silica fragments. Making sure facial and respiratory masks meet the federal requirements is critical. The masks must be able to block microscopic fragments that are small enough to be inhaled.
If you or someone your love has suffered serious side effects, or even death, due to silicosis, you need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.