Silicosis is a dust disease caused by long-term exposure to crystalline silica, which causes inflammation, scarring and hardening of the lungs. The illness is most commonly seen in people who work with stones, clay, rocks and sand, as these materials all contain silica.
The disease develops over time when individuals inhale the fine silica dust that is produced when these substances go through various processes. In most cases, silicosis takes decades to show symptoms, although the condition can become noticeable after just a few months of heavy exposure in rare cases.
Sufferers usually develop silicosis through their jobs in mines, quarries, potteries, glass factories and other occupations where the individual comes into contact with silica-containing materials.
What are the symptoms?
Silicosis affects the performance of the lungs, with areas of hardened and scarred tissue preventing the organs from fully functioning. Typically, symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough and a lack of energy or tiredness. People may also experience:
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pains
- A blue tinge to the skin
Eventually, the symptoms can be so severe that everyday tasks become challenging. For example, climbing the stairs or walking may be limited and the person could become bedridden.
How is silicosis diagnosed?
People who suffer any of the above symptoms should visit their GP immediately. The doctor will take a medical history, which will involve occupational information.
After checking the patient’s chest with a stethoscope, further tests may be required. An X-ray or CT scan will help map the condition of the individual’s lungs, while a spirometer may be used to test breathing capacity.
What treatments are available?
Unfortunately, silicosis is not curable and the lungs can’t recover from the damage they’ve already sustained. The condition may also worsen over time, even when people stop working in jobs where crystalline silica is present.
However, there are a number of ways sufferers can stop complications from arising. Preventing exposure is essential, while people who smoke are advised to stop. Tuberculosis (TB) is also common in silicosis sufferers, so regular tests to check for the disease from a GP are recommended.
Employees who were exposed to silica in the workplace may be entitled to compensation to cover medical expenses and other costs incurred due to the illness.
Therefore, if you suffer from a dust disease contracted from your job, please contact a specialist silicosis lawyer to discuss a claim.