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 on average, 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.

 

References

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  9. Kreiss K, Mroz MM, Newman LS, Martyny J, Zhen B. Machining risk of beryllium disease and sensitization with median exposures below 2 µg/m3. Am J Indust Med 1996; 30:16-25.
  10. Kreiss K, et al. Risks of beryllium disease related to work processes at a metal, alloy and oxide production plant. Occup Environ Med 1997; 54:605-612.
  11. Mroz MM, Kreiss K, Lezotte DC, Campbell PA, Newman LS. Re-examination of the blood lymphocyte transformation test in the diagnosis of chronic beryllium disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1991; 88:54-60.
  12. Kreiss K, Miller F, Newman LS, Ojo-Amaize EA, Rossman MD, Saltini C. Chronic beryllium disease: From the work place to cellular immunology, molecular immunogenetics, and back. Cl Immunol Immunopath 1994; 71:123-129.
  13. Rossman MD. Differential diagnosis of chronic beryllium disease. In: Rossman MD, Preuss OP, Powers MB, eds. Beryllium: Biomedical and Environmental Aspects. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1991; 167-175.
  14. Newman LS, Mroz MM, Maier LA, Danilof EM, Balkissoon R. Efficacy of serial medical surveillance for chronic beryllium disease in a beryllium machining plant. J Occup Environ Med 2001; 43:231-237.
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  17. Schuler-CR; Kitt-MM; Henneberger-PK; Deubner-DC; Kreiss-K Cumulative sensitization and disease in a beryllium oxide ceramics worker cohort. J Occup Environ Med 2008 Dec; 50(12):1343-1350
  18. Balmes, JR, et al. An official American Thoracic Society statement: diagnosis and management of beryllium sensitivity and chronic beryllium disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Nov 15;190(10):e34-59. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201409-1722ST.

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