If you work in certain industries, there are risks that are taken in the materials you work with. As an employee, you have the right to expect your employer to be aware of these and meet the regulations set by the government. Silicosis is a disease that is commonly seen in workers in certain industries, including sand blasting, ceramics work, stone cutting, quarrying, glass manufacturing, mining, construction and tunnel work.
Silicosis is caused when you breathe in tiny bits of silica, a mineral found in rock, sand and mineral ores. Silica particles gather in the lungs over time and can cause scarring which affects your breathing ability. Close to two million workers in the United States alone are at risk for developing this condition as they are exposed to silica on the job. The disease has no cure, so prevention is the best way to stay healthy.
What are the symptoms of silicosis?
If you have been exposed to silica throughout your career and fear you may have silicosis, watch for the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry, nonproductive cough
- Chest pain
- Respiratory failure
- Possible fever
- Shortness of breath
In its most advanced stages, silicosis can cause scleroderma, possible renal disease, lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or bronchitis.
What is it like living with the disease?
Because the disease cannot be cured, those who suffer from it must adjust their lifestyles and take advantage of available medical treatments to control the condition and minimize the damage. Those with silicosis should do the following:
- Stop smoking
- Stay away from silica
- Get recommended vaccinations for influenza and pneumococcal disease
- Watch close for signs of infection or tuberculosis
- Have an aggressive plan to deal with flare-ups
- Stay educated about silicosis
Some with silicosis require immediate treatment with support and oxygen to aid with breathing. Others use medications such as inhaled steroids to decrease production of the sputum. Still others use inhaled bronchodilators to relax the air tubes.
Once the disease is in its most advanced stage, you will need a multidisciplinary approach to treating and managing it with several different doctors and specialists. Staying away from smoke, air pollution and allergens can reduce the irritation to the lungs and stop flare-ups. If your job requires exposure to silica, you may want to consider switching occupations.
Staying safe on the job
Employers can and are expected to implement safety measures that protect employers from dangerous diseases like silicosis from prolonged exposure to harmful materials. If you feel your employer neglected to adequately protect you from danger, you may benefit from speaking to an attorney.