What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a type of pulmonary fibrosis, caused by breathing in silica dust. It usually develops many years after exposure to silica dust.

Causes of silicosis

Silica dust is naturally found in many types of rock, sand and  soil. When silica dust enters the lungs, it can irritate the lungs and cause inflammation. This eventually leads to scarring in the lungs – or pulmonary fibrosis.

Silicosis usually develops 10-20 years after exposure to silica dust, so you may not notice any symptoms until long after your exposure. People who are exposed at work are at higher risk of developing the condition. If your job involves cutting, chipping or grinding any kind of stone, you may breathe in silica dust. Industries at risk of silicosis include construction, mining, quarrying, demolition, sand blasting, stone  masonry, worktop manufacturing and fitting, tiling, pottery, ceramics and  glass.

Symptoms of silicosis

Silicosis symptoms include breathlessness, cough and tiredness. Find more about pulmonary fibrosis and its symptoms.

Treatments for silicosis

Silicosis cannot be cured. However, pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy may help improve your quality of life. It is important to limit your exposure to silica dust if you’re still working. You may want to ask for help with stopping smoking if you smoke.

Ongoing treatment

You’ll have regular appointments with your medical team to review your silicosis progression, and decide on your treatments.

Outlook for silicosis

Pulmonary fibrosis caused by silica dust usually progresses very slowly over many years. But if you smoke or have smoked, the progression may be faster. Silicosis is not usually fatal in the UK. Silicosis complications include pulmonary hypertension, COPD and lung cancer.

Other forms of pulmonary fibrosis

·      Asbestosis

·      COVID-19-related  pulmonary fibrosis

·      Drug-induced pulmonary fibrosis

·      ‍Hypersensitivity pneumonitis

·      Non-specific interstitial pneumonia

·      ‍Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

·      Pneumoconiosis

·      Rheumatoid arthritis-ILD

·      Systemic sclerosis

·      Sarcoidosis

Information provided by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis (APF) is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s intended as general information only. APF is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any loss or damage suffered by users resulting from the information published on actionpf.org.

Further information for carers:

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