How to Recognize, Treat, and Prevent Silicosis

 In The Buzz
We talk a lot about switching your absorbent products from clay to natural alternatives in order to reduce the risk of silicosis. But do you know exactly what silicosis is, or how to identify the disease and how to protect your workers from developing it? We’re here to help you answer these questions with our guide to silicosis. What is silicosis? Silicosis is described as a chronic, incurable lung disease which can develop after individuals breathe in silica dust. Silica is a mineral originating in the earth’s crust. Silica, and the dust associated with it, is often present in many blue-collar work industries such as mining or construction, as well as in clay spill absorbents. Silica dust has been linked to three types of silicosis:
  1. Chronic silicosis, which occurs 10 or more years after low exposure to silica dust
  2. Accelerated silicosis, which occurs 5 to 10 years after high exposure to silica dust
  3. Acute silicosis, which occurs weeks to months after high exposure to silica dust
Although each diagnosis presents differently, they are all very damaging to a worker’s health. What are the symptoms of silicosis? Common symptoms of silicosis include but are not limited to:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe coughing
  • Overall body weakness
Sometimes, due to silica in the lungs, the body loses the ability to fight off infections. Some symptoms of these infections include…
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pains
  • Respiratory failure
How do doctors recognize silicosis? The main tool for doctors to recognize silicosis is patient history. If men or women have worked in an area or been involved with hobbies that made the lungs more susceptible to silica exposure, doctors can use this knowledge to schedule further tests such as chest x-rays or pulmonary function tests. These tests will ultimately confirm a diagnosis. How is silicosis treated? Although silicosis is technically incurable, doctors can prescribe medicine to make life more comfortable with the disease. Medicinal options for patients include:
  • Prescription strength cough medicine
  • Oxygen tanks
  • Various antibiotics (for infections)
To keep the disease from progressing further after diagnosis, doctors also encourage patients to stay away from sites with high exposure to silica and to stop smoking. How can workers protect themselves from silicosis? Due to the severity of silicosis, employers and businesses should make every effort to reduce their workers’ on-site exposure to silica dust. Workers and employers can help in these efforts by:
  1. Avoiding work in dusty areas and worksites whenever possible
  2. Wetting down loose dust on machines, which will prevent this dust from spreading in the air during a busy workday
  3. Switching clay spill absorbent products with more natural alternatives
  4. Wearing respiratory masks when contact with dust can’t be avoided
  5. Practicing good hygiene and changing clothing after working in dusty areas
It is our hope that workers and employers alike are doing what they can to prevent silicosis. By following these simple safety steps, workers and managers can start to actively prevent and identify any on-site silicosis risks that should be avoided and addressed.