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This information was reviewed and approved by Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH (11/1/2019).

If you work in an industry where you have been exposed to silica dust, it’s important to get regular checkups. Silicosis is diagnosed when clinicians take an occupational history and perform additional testing. 

The disease may not show up for 5-20 years after exposure, so it is important to consider all jobs throughout your career. If your work history indicates there may have been exposure to respirable crystaline silica, your health care provider may order the following tests to find out if there is a possible diagnosis of silicosis:

  • Imaging studies such as a chest X-ray or a more detailed study of the lungs with a chest computed tomography (CT) scan are used to visualize the lung tissue and lymph nodes. Physicians trained as B-readers (physicians with special expertise in reviewing X-rays for dust related illnesses) may review the chest X-ray to determine whether a dust induced lung disease is present.

  • Lung function testing (also called pulmonary function testing (PFT)) may be performed to determine how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly you can expel air from your lungs and how well your lungs can exchange oxygen.

  • A bronchoscopy, in which a long, thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted into your lungs, may be used to check for lung damage.

  • An arterial blood gas (ABG) at rest and with exertion may be performed to determine oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

  • On rare occasions a lung biopsy may be needed to verify the diagnosis of silicosis.

  • Laboratory testing for tuberculosis (TB), autoimmune and kidney disease and other studies may be needed, as these diseases are often associated with silicosis.

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