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Silicosis is a disease caused by working in silica dusts. These dusts are come across in a wide variety of jobs.
Here is some helpful information if you might have this condition.
Silicosis – what is it and what symptoms do you get?
Silicosis refers to a range of lung diseases caused by breathing in free crystalline silica.
Exposure to dusts over a long period can cause fibrosis (hardening or scarring) of the lung tissue. This can cause a loss of lung function. Silicosis sufferers are likely to have severe shortness of breath and may find it difficult or impossible to walk even short distances or upstairs.
The effect continues to develop after exposure has stopped. It is irreversible. Sufferers usually become house- or bed-bound and often die prematurely due to heart failure.
Chronic silicosis may either be simple – where there are numerous small round opacities – or “progressive massive fibrosis”. This is characterised by nodular lung scarring, 1cm or greater in diameter.
Acute silicosis is a rare complication of short-term exposure to very large amounts of silica. This condition is life-threatening and associated with very significant clinical consequences.
Silica may also be linked to lung cancer.
Precautions taken to control the risk of fibrosis will serve to control the risk of lung cancer. Workers with silicosis are at an increased risk of tuberculosis, kidney disease and arthritis. Exposure to silica dust may also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Progression of the illness
Silicosis tends to develop slowly. It usually appears 10 – 30 years after first exposure. It is common for it to appear on chest x-rays and scans many years after someone stopped working in a job with exposure.
The joining together of these silicotic nodules leads to replacement of upper lung lobe tissue by the nodules. This causes air trapping and emphysema in the lower lobes due to the damage affecting the lower lobes. This causes your lungs to not work as well.
The damage to the lung can also cause effusions i.e. buildup of fluid in the pleural area between the lung and rib cage. It can also cause pleural thickening.
Those who smoke (when combined with silica exposure) may make their condition worse.
Very often silicosis is not picked up for many years by G.Ps or other doctors. It can be detected on lung biopsies and is often picked up at post-mortem examination.
COPD is a recognised complication of both silicosis and smoking. However smoking is thought to be the greater toxic factor.
It is also possible for workers with silicosis to develop pneumothorax or pneumothoraxes. This is an abnormal collection of air or gas in the pleural space which causes an uncoupling of the lung from the chest wall. In effect the lung punctures like a balloon deflates.
Silicosis can cause a loss of life expectancy.
Do people still get it?
There have been many more cases in the past than there is now. Reduced mining and better health and safety protection have reduced numbers. However Health & Safety Exective (HSE) reports show that the problem has not gone away.
In addition reports show that there is huge under reporting and that the true number of dust victims is much higher than the statistics show. We think there are hundreds if not thousands of victims who have not been diagnosed.
Much of this is due to the fact that doctors being presented with elder working men and women are not trained nor experienced to investigate if silica could be causing problems.
What sort of work dust causes illness?
No dust you breathe in is good for you. The HSE list the following which carry risks of disease
- sandstone, gritstone, quartzite
- concrete, mortar
- china stone
- basalt, dolerite
- limestone, chalk, marble
Work Dust and Silicosis – Key Facts and Figures
The most recent figures published in 2017 confirm that:-
- Lung disease is estimated to cause 12,000 annual deaths
- There are 18,000 annual new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work.
The figures show a steadily declining picture across the board. However victims are still being found and are still dying.
The majority of dust disease cases which are not due to coal or asbestos are SILICOSIS.
What jobs cause silicosis and work dust diseases?
Silicosis can be caused in any job which involves dust. Typically the most common work is:-
- stonemasons and bricklayers
- other construction related occupations
- marie mining and quarrying
- foundry related occupations
The size of the particles of silica given off is also a factor.
Medical reports point out that work with different types of stone means exposure to different amounts of silica.
Whilst large dust particles can be seen with the naked eye these will usually fall to the floor. Those dust particles less than 100 microns (0.1mm) – which is relatively large – will get into your mouth and throat and cause irritation.
However, it is those dusts you cannot see that have the potential to cause real harm. Very small dusts of less 5 microns can get deep inside the lung and can lead to serious and potentially fatal diseases.
Our claims success for work dust and silicosis victims
Very recently Corries have won damages for two SILICOSIS claimants for significant damages see the links here ***
Many hard working people will have worked with deadly dusts. Some will develop disease in the years to come. Many more may die due to dust disease.
In our experience many doctors are not asking about people’s work or are missing the diagnosis. Being diagnosed too late prevents chances to at least manage the difficulties and get proper advice. Typically doctors may ask if you have smoked or worked in a mine or with asbestos. Seldom are other questions asked.
What can I do?
If you have worked with any of the dusts mentioned above and are suffering then tell your doctor.
To help get to the bottom of this and secure proper advice:-
- Tell your doctor about your working life – write it out and hand it over if you have a short appointment,
- Ask for a chest x ray,
- If problems continue seek a referral to a chest expert with a knowledge of work dust diseases even if this is not at your most local hospital – you must invest in this process if you want to find out what is wrong with you.
How we can help
If you suspect you have silicosis or other work chest disease then call us. Our team will speak to you on a FREE confidential basis to see if we can help. Call us now on 0800 083 7839.
And whilst doctors will often ask about smoking, social issues or even asbestos sometimes other dusts get missed. Make sure you explain this to them. Write out your work history and what you remember about silica or other dusts. Print off our page and hand this to your doctor and ask them to read it.