Reviewed by Lisa A. Maier, MD, MSPH, FCCP

What is chronic beryllium disease (CBD)?

Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) is a disease that primarily affects the lungs, causing inflammation, characteristic scars called granulomas and, in more severe cases, scarring called fibrosis. CBD is immune-mediated, meaning that CBD can develop only in individuals who have developed an immune response or “allergy” to beryllium metal, ceramic or alloy, termed beryllium sensitization (BeS). Beryllium sensitization occurs after a susceptible person breathes beryllium dust or fumes or if beryllium particles penetrate the skin. People are more likely to develop beryllium sensitization and CBD if they are susceptible or when they have (carry) certain genes, such as the HLA-DPB Glu69 gene.


How do you develop CBD?

It is important to know that no one develops CBD unless they are exposed to beryllium and develop an immune response (BeS) to it. Most people who are exposed to beryllium will not experience health effects.

Studies have shown that, 1 – 6 percent of exposed workers develop beryllium sensitization, although the rates can be as high as 16 percent among workers with the highest exposures, such as beryllium machinists. Most workers who develop sensitization tend to do so early, but follow-up testing over the years continues to identify sensitization in individuals who were exposed up to 30 years earlier. 

For more information on beryllium, please contact National Jewish Health® at 1.800.222.5864, extension 1722.

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