This is the second installment of my series on industrial related dust diseases of the lung. The lung disease caused by silica is specifically caused by the inhalation of silicon dioxide. This is the most abundant mineral on earth. Believe it or not the association between the inhalation of this dust and lung disease has been documented in the written record going back to ancient Egypt and Greece.
Those most often exposed to silica are miners and brick yard workers. Silicosis, the name of the lung disease due to silica dust exposure develops slowly over time. The mortality due to silica related lung disease has gone down over the past decades due to safer work environments. In hard rock miners we see evidence of silica dust exposure in about one third of these patients. Race may also play a role in the development of silica lung disease. Black workers are two to seven times more likely to develop silicosis than Whites.
Symptoms are those of most other lung diseases, that is, cough and shortness of breath. The diagnosis is made with a history of silica exposure and chest x-ray or cat scan findings. Silicosis has a progressive nature and the silica crystals in the lung continue to cause inflammation and scarring over long periods of time. There is no specific treatment for silicosis, so the major thrust is to try and prevent this disease. In the US OSHA and other governmental agencies help set standard for most work places