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

Silicosis is a progressive disease, meaning that it often gets worse over time as lung scarring occurs. It may start out as an abnormal X-ray. 

Early silicosis, usually detectable on chest imaging, may produce no symptoms and very little loss of lung function. More severe forms of silica-related lung disease usually lead to loss of lung function and the respiratory symptoms of shortness of breath and cough.

Symptoms of silicosis may appear within a few months to many years after exposure.  Some of the symptoms of silicosis include:

  • Chronic, nagging cough

  • Shortness of breath with exercise

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Fever

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Weight loss

  • Night sweats

  • Chest pain

  • Swollen legs

  • Blue lips

Any of these symptoms can become worse over time, as the disease progresses. Some people may eventually have difficulty doing even the simplest activities of daily living. That’s why it’s important to seek treatment for silicosis early, before symptoms become severe.

Because silicosis affects the immune system, exposure to silica increases the risk of lung infections, such as tuberculosis. Exposure to silica also increases the risk of developing lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease, so you should also watch for the symptoms of these illnesses.

Additional complications also are possible with silicosis, such as connective tissue diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, also known as lupus).