Silicosis, also known as grinder’s disease and potter’s rot, results from the inhalation of crystalline silica dust. Silica is a common mineral found naturally in sand and rock. Silica scars lungs and creates small, discrete nodules in the upper lobes of the lungs. As the disease advances, a dense fibrosis of the lungs develops, and emphysema with respiratory impairment may result. The disease is chronic and progressive.
Silica exposure is common in mines and quarries and in a number of occupations, such as sandblasting, foundry work, ceramics, and glassmaking. The occupations most prone to silica exposure are mining, drilling, blasting, grinding, and abrasive manufacturing. Required exposure varies from 2 to 30 years; the average is 10 years.
Signs and Symptoms
The disease may be asymptomatic even though x-rays exhibit evidence of nodule formation. Dyspnea on exertion generally is the first symptom. A chronic dry cough that later turns productive, tachypnea, pulmonary hypertension, and malaise may result.
A thorough medical history revealing exposure to silica dust is essential. Chest x-rays show small, discrete, nodular lesions throughout the lung but concentrated in the upper areas of the lung. Arterial blood gas analyses and pulmonary function tests confirm the diagnosis.
Silicosis is irreversible and cannot be cured. Therefore, treatment is symptomatic. Clients should remove themselves from further exposure to silica and other lung irritants, including tobacco smoking. Cough suppressants may help. Antibiotics are used to prevent TB, which is a common occurrence in silicosis. Chest physiotherapy or bronchial hygiene helps drain the bronchial tubes and bronchioles of mucus. Bronchodilators and oxygen administration can help breathing. Lung transplant may be an option for some.
Steam inhalation, chest physiotherapy, and controlled coughing can help clients clear secretions. A whole-foods diet is recommended.
Prevention of infections is very important. Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are essential.
The prognosis for an individual with silicosis varies unless the disease has progressed to the fibrotic form. The disease can be rapidly fatal depending on the quantity and quality of the silica entering the lungs. Silicosis is always life shortening.
Prevention involves minimizing exposure to silica dust in the work environment. Water spray is often used where there is dust. Air filtering can also reduce dust particles.