Reviewed by Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a scarring disease of the lung caused by inhaling fine particles of crystalline silica dust. Chronic dry cough and shortness of breath are early symptoms of disease. Silicosis can worsen over time, especially with continued dust exposure. The disease typically takes 5 – 20 years after first exposure to appear.

 

Who gets silicosis?

Natural stone sources of crystalline silica include sandstone, quartz, and granite. Engineered (artificial) stone typically contains high concentrations of crystalline silica. People who work in the following industries may have exposure to silica dust:

  • Engineered stone fabrication   
  • Concrete mixing and cutting           
  • Sandblasting  
  • Brick and stone cutting
  • Foundry work
  • Construction  
  • Metal mining
  • Fracking (natural gas extraction)

 

What other diseases are associated with exposure to respirable silica dust?

 

Silicosis is an old disease? Why is this important now?

Exposure to silica dust has been known for centuries to cause silicosis, yet many cases are continuing to occur in the United States and worldwide. A recent outbreak in stone fabrication workers has brought renewed attention to the disease.

Silicosis is not reversible, but it is a preventable. If workers are diagnosed with silicosis, they must be removed from exposure to minimize the risk for further progression of disease.

 

How is silicosis diagnosed?

Silicosis is diagnosed when symptoms of dry cough and shortness of breath prompt clinicians to take an occupational history and obtain additional testing. The disease can have a latency of 5 - 20 years, so it is important to consider all jobs throughout a worker’s career. If the work history indicates that there may have been exposure to respirable crystalline silica, testing should include a chest x-ray. This x-ray will require a specialized reading for dust disease of the lung called a B-reading.  Lung function testing and additional evaluation for conditions associated with silica exposure are often needed.

 

What resources are available?

If you have questions about silicosis, you can call the toll free number for the National Jewish Health Center of Excellence for Silicosis and Its Prevention:

877.255.5864

 

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