Does Silicosis Ever Go Away?

There is currently no cure available for silicosis. However, the underlying symptoms can be treated in order to provide some relief and help to control the condition. You can also help to keep this disease from growing worse by limiting your exposure to additional amounts of silica dust. If it is hard to control exposure, respirators or masks can help to filter out small silica particles. When it becomes difficult to breathe, cough syrup, oxygen, and bronchodilators can help make your breathing easier.

During the 1940s through the 1960s silicosis was a more common occurrence in Australia, especially among demolition and construction workers. The number of cases has been reduced by the growing awareness of this disease and the realisation of how important it is to reduce exposure to dust - for example, safe work practices such as wetting the dust and wearing masks while working.

What are the outcomes of silicosis and how is it treated?

Diseases caused by silica exposure are potentially lethal and very serious. Supportive care is the only treatment that is available. That may include antibiotics, vaccination against infections, using inhalers and quitting smoking. In the latter stages, it might be necessary to have a lung transplant or oxygen treatment.

Once it has been diagnosed, usually the disease progresses over time. A patient who has accelerated silicosis might progress into progressive massive fibrosis over a four to five year period of time. When individuals are diagnosed with silicosis, overall they lose, 11.6 years of life, on average. This is why prevention is so critical.

silicosis patient in Australia

Computed tomography

A diagnosis of silicosis is made whenever a person who has worked in the past with silica is given a chest computed tomography (CT) which displays distinctive patterns that are consistent with this disease. To help diagnose this disease, a chest x-ray may also be performed. When the findings from imaging are unclear, lung tissue samples can help to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, additional tests may be performed in order to distinguish silicosis from other types of disorders.

Prevention

The key to silicosis prevention is to control silica dust within the workplace. When it is not possible to control the dust, which could be true within the sandblasting industry, workers need to wear protective gear, like special masks that filter tiny particles out efficiently or hoods that provide clean external air. This type of protection might not be available to all individuals who work in an area that is dusty (for example, welders and painters), so abrasive other than sand need to be used whenever possible.

Workers who are exposed to silica dust need to have chest x-rays done on a regular basis to detect any problems early. Any workers who smoke need to be encouraged to quit. Other preventative measures that are available include an influenza vaccination done on an annual basis as well as a pneumococcal vaccine to help to protect vulnerable workers against infections.

chect x-ray

Treatments

  • Whole lung lavage
  • To treat corticosteroids, accelerated or acute silicosis
  • Treatments for complications and symptoms, like drugs that open up the airways and lung transplantation sometimes.
  • There is no cure for silicosis. However, it is possible to slow its progression if silica exposure is avoided, particularly during the disease's early stages.
  • A whole lung lavage (or washing) may be used for treating both chronic and acute silicosis. During the procedure, the lung is filled with a saline (salt) solution by the doctor and then it is drained in order to clear material out of the air spaces.
  • Taking corticosteroids can be beneficial for some individuals who have accelerated or acute silicosis.

Individuals who have a hard time breathing might benefit from taking drugs that will help keep them free of mucus and their airways open (bronchodilators - under Treatment of symptoms). The last resort is lung transplantation.

Since individuals who have silicosis are at high risk to develop tuberculosis, they need to have checkups on a regular basis which include having a tuberculosis skin test performed.

Individuals need to be treated and monitored for low levels of oxygen in their blood. Pulmonary rehabilitation might help individuals be able to carry out their daily living activities. Learn more.

Why Are So Many Workers Still Exposed to Silica?

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