Silicosis is a lung disease. It occurs in particular in the context of occupational diseases and is increasingly widespread in developing countries where occupational safety and health is only at a low level.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis occurs due to quartz particles. If these are inhaled at regular intervals and in higher doses, the lungs change pathologically. Ultimately, the symptoms result in a serious illness of the respiratory system. Because this is caused by quartz, it is also referred to as quartz dust lung outside of medical terminology.
The workplace is particularly often to blame for silicosis. If this shows a high level of quartz in the form of dust, the development of the disease cannot be ruled out. Businesses at risk are sectors such as mining or diamond grinding. Accordingly, silicosis is one of the occupational diseases. The risk of contracting the symptoms outside of the workplace is very low. For bisphenol a (bpa) definitions, please visit definitionexplorer.com.
Mining work increases the concentration of silica dust in the air. If this is inhaled, the particles enter the lungs of the person concerned. The dirt remains in the tissue, after which the organism signals the presence of foreign bodies. Accordingly, the cells try to reject the particles. However, because the dust particles are very small, they can usually penetrate into the alveoli.
Finally, more antibodies are produced, as is usual in the context of a healthy immune system with invading pathogens. The immune cells attack the dust particles and want to destroy them in this way. Ultimately, however, the immune cells fail to eliminate it. Instead, the cells die and the dust particles get back into the lungs. Further antibodies devote themselves to the foreign particles and they die off again.
Ultimately, the amount of dead cells accumulates in the area of the lungs. The body responds by inflaming the lungs, which in turn produces more connective tissue cells. In the further course, the silicosis leads to a fibrosis. Fibrosis permanently limits the functionality of the lungs.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The first appearance of symptoms depends primarily on the specific concentration of quartz in the air. It can be years or just a few months before the disease manifests itself for the first time. At the same time, the late symptoms have far-reaching consequences: as soon as they appear, the silicosis is often far advanced and some therapeutic approaches can no longer be used.
Ultimately, those affected notice a dry cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, weight loss, a slight fever, a dry cough and joint pain as part of the disease. The dry, irritating cough usually remains permanent and cannot be treated by taking expectorants or similar medication. Shortness of breath is particularly noticeable during physical exertion.
For example, those affected quickly get out of breath when climbing stairs. If the disease is already very advanced, gasping for air can also occur at rest. In some cases, the penetration of oxygen is only possible again after a few futile breaths. Lips and fingers turn blue as a result of the lack of oxygen.
Diagnosis & course of action
If left untreated, silicosis will eventually result in death by asphyxiation. Accordingly, a diagnosis as early as possible is crucial. However, because the symptoms are often not noticed until late and could also indicate other diseases, the diagnosis is often only confirmed in the cooperation of several specialists.
Precise information from the patient about his or her workplace is particularly important here. The breathing can then be listened to and the function of the lungs checked. Finally, tissue samples can be taken as part of a lung endoscopy. The examination of the cells in the laboratory provides further information about the possible presence of silicosis.
Silicosis can have a number of complications. The extent of this depends on whether it is an acute or chronic form of quartz dust lung. Acute silicosis often results in death, which can be attributed to the rapidly spreading respiratory weakness. In the case of a chronic course, the symptoms usually only appear after several decades of exposure to quartz dust.
Due to pulmonary fibrosis, the life expectancy of the affected person is only reduced in rare cases. However, due to the quartz dust lung there is an increased susceptibility to external infections. Immediate treatment is therefore required to prevent further breathing problems.
One of the complications of silicosis is tuberculosis (consumption). The patient has a thirty-fold increased risk of disease. If silicosis and tuberculosis are diagnosed on the one hand, the medical term is silico-tuberculosis.
Other possible consequences of quartz dust lung are chronic inflammation of the airways. They mainly occur in people who work in hard coal mining. Because the respiratory tract can no longer free itself sufficiently from the quartz dust, this leads to the development of inflammation. This increases mucus production and narrows the trachea.
As a result, the air can no longer be exhaled sufficiently. There is a risk of pulmonary emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other sequelae of silicosis include connective tissue disease, Caplan syndrome, which is a hybrid of quartz lung and rheumatoid arthritis, and lung cancer.
When should you go to the doctor?
Silicosis usually always requires medical treatment. Since this disease cannot heal itself, the person affected is always dependent on medical treatment in order to prevent and limit further complications. In the worst case, the symptoms of silicosis can lead to the death of the person affected if the disease is not treated. A doctor should be consulted if the patient suffers from severe breathing difficulties. This leads to a dry cough and shortness of breath. Those affected also suffer from severe fatigue or weight loss due to breathing difficulties.
Strenuous activities can hardly be carried out, so that those affected are significantly restricted in their everyday life due to silicosis. Pain in the joints or fever can also indicate the disease and should also be examined by a doctor.
The diagnosis of silicosis can usually be made by a family doctor or an ENT doctor. Further treatment depends heavily on the severity of the disease. A complete cure cannot be achieved.
Treatment & Therapy
The earlier the diagnosis is made, the more effective the therapeutic approaches. New tissue is created through the formation of connective tissue cells. At the same time, the inflammation of the lungs leads to scarring of the organ. If scarring and tissue regeneration progress, the function of the lungs is restricted. The creation of both components cannot be undone.
The same applies to silicosis as a whole. It is a disease that cannot be cured according to current medical knowledge. Nevertheless, treatment to alleviate the symptoms is possible. The basis of the therapy is based on the attempt to prevent or at least slow down the further development of scars and tissue. It is particularly important here to avoid further quartz particles. As a result, those affected usually have to change their profession.
If the lungs were still exposed to quartz stress, the disease often cannot be stopped. At the same time, treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms caused by silicosis. Inflammations are treated with cortisone, and chronic oxygen deficiency is compensated for by long-term oxygen therapy.
Those affected receive oxygen through tubes. The device stays connected for up to 16 hours, allowing patients to overcome mild exertion without shortness of breath. Some people need a lung transplant to avoid death from silicosis.
Silicosis can be prevented. The most effective way is to avoid workplaces that have a high exposure to quartz dust. If no quartz dust is inhaled, the particles cannot get into the lungs and thus endanger your health. Workers who are already employed in the affected divisions should ensure that they have adequate protective clothing.
In order to improve well-being, it is recommended that follow-up care be avoided in environments that are polluted and where pollutants can easily find their way into the lungs. Thus, the consumption of nicotine should be avoided completely, both actively and passively. In addition, areas should be avoided in which, for example, gases or dyes can be inhaled particularly easily.
The supply of oxygen-rich air is extremely important for those affected. For this reason, regular ventilation should be mandatory in closed rooms. It is also important to ensure that the air is oxygen-rich when you sleep at night. Situations of physical exertion should be avoided if possible, as they can act as a trigger for organic irregularities or complications.
It is not uncommon for patients to complain about tiredness or shortness of breath. Therefore, the focus should also be placed on optimal sleep hygiene. Anyone who maintains a good day and sleep rhythm improves their overall situation. In situations of shortness of breath, it is important to remain calm.
States of anxiety often intensify in hectic situations and should therefore be avoided. Anyone who takes medication as part of aftercare should always pay attention to the side effects – especially if it is to be expected that active ingredients can have a negative effect on breathing activity.
You can do that yourself
To improve well-being, avoid situations and environments where pollutants can enter the lungs. This means that the consumption of nicotine, both active and passive, should be completely avoided. In addition, no areas should be visited where gases or dyes can be inhaled. The supply of oxygen-rich air is immensely important for those affected. It is therefore important to ensure regular ventilation in closed rooms. Oxygen-rich air should also be present during night sleep.
Situations of physical exertion should be avoided as they can cause organic irregularities or complications. Patients often complain of tiredness or shortness of breath. For this reason, overall sleep hygiene should be improved. A good day and sleep rhythm helps to improve the overall situation. As soon as situations of shortness of breath arise, keep calm. States of anxiety can intensify, especially in hectic situations, and should therefore be avoided.
When taking medication, be aware of the side effects. This applies in particular if active ingredients can have a negative effect on breathing activity. The limits of self-help are reached when the skin turns blue or the heart rhythm is disturbed. In these cases, cooperation with a doctor must be sought.