Silicosis is a incurable lung disease cased by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. It involves inflammation and the development of scarring of the lungs.
Silicosis is generally a progressive condition and may lead to respiratory failure. There are three clinical kinds of silicosis – acute silicosis, accelerated silicosis and chronic silicosis.
Acute silicosis can develop after short-term exposure (weeks or months) to very high levels of silica dust and leads to the rapid onset of symptoms and potential health complications.
Acute silicosis was historically very rare. However, there has been an increase in the incidence of acute silicosis arising from work with engineered on manufactured stone products. Those products can contain up to, and in excess of 90% crystalline silica.
Acute silicosis involves severe inflammation and an outpouring of protein into the lungs which can fill with fluid. This in turn leads to severe shortness of breath and low blood oxygen levels.
Accelerated silicosis may develop within 3-10 years of first exposure to silica dust. Like acute silicosis, accelerated silicosis was historically rare. However the increased use of engineered stone has lead to an increase in incidents of accelerated silicosis.
In accelerated silicosis, swelling in the lungs and symptoms occur faster than in chronic silicosis. Like chronic silicosis, lesions known as silicotic nodules develop which if they coalesce can become progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Symptoms include shortness of breath which overtime may lead to a need for support with oxygen.
Chronic silicosis may develop after many years (10-40) of exposure to silica. Historically chronic silicosis was the most common form of the disease, particularly in places like Sydney among jack pick operators who drilled sandstone. Chronic silicosis can become progressive massive fibrosis.
In chronic silicosis, the silica dust causes areas of swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes, which leads to shortness of breath.