Some occupations like mining and sandblasting involve heavy exposure to rock dust, which often contains silica, or silicon dioxide. Crystalline silica, most commonly found as quartz, is a chief component of granite and sand. When crystalline silica dust is inhaled, it irritates and inflames lung tissue. Eventually, this inflammation can cause scar tissue to form. These scar tissue nodules can obstruct oxygen flow to the lungs and cause a variety of harmful health effects. This condition is known as silicosis.
There are three forms of silicosis:
- Chronic silicosis is caused by long-term, low-level silica dust exposure.
- Accelerated silicosis occurs more rapidly due to exposure to greater amounts of silica.
- Acute silicosis is caused by intense short-term exposure to silica dust.
Some silicosis symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and fever. As silicosis progresses, pulmonary and cardiac impairment can occur. Silicosis patients are also at an increased risk for lung cancer, tuberculosis, heart disease, and connective tissue disease.