Silicosis is a type of pneumoconiosis, occurs due to exposure (mainly occupational exposure, hence silicosis is an occupational disease) to respirable silica dust. Due to silicosis, there is scarring of lungs as a result there if reduce lung functional capacity and work performance of lungs reduces, leading to shortness of breath. Silicosis develops slowly over several years of exposure, sometimes decades of chronic exposure to low concentration of silica dust. As the disease develop slowly over several years/decades, the symptoms also appear years after exposure to silica dust.
Signs and symptoms of silicosis are:
- Shortness of breath (known as dyspnea), which usually deteriorates on exertion and there is gradual worsening of shortness of breath. The patient may not complete a sentence in single breath
- Cough, which may be persistent and sometimes quite troublesome and severe
- Fatigue and generalized weakness, which is due to reduced functioning capacity of lungs, which leads to reduced oxygenation of blood and weakness results
- Increased respiratory rate, which may be sometimes labored. Increased respiratory rate is to compensate the low oxygen saturation of blood, which in turn can delivered lower amount of oxygen to tissues, leading to generalized weakness
- Weight loss, due to loss of appetite
- Chest discomfort and chest pain
- Destruction of nails and nail beds due to cracking of protein fibers which, makes the nails.
In cases of advanced and complicated silicosis the following symptoms may develop:
- Cyanosis may develop, which is bluish coloration of skin due to low oxygen saturation of blood leading to high carbon dioxide concentration, which appears bluish
- Respiratory insufficiency
- Right ventricular heart disease known as cor-plmonale
Silicosis patients are at higher risk of developing tuberculosis and frequently silicosis and tuberculosis coexist known as “silicotuberclosis”. The cause is not clearly understood. Because workers exposed to silica dust without silicosis are also at same higher risk (three times higher risk) of developing tuberculosis. Lung complications of silicosis are chronic bronchitis, pnemothorax, compensatory emphysema, fungal infection etc.