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Silica Exposure and Associated Illnesses

Silica exposure is almost as dangerous as asbestos exposure. Silica is a harmful substance and a natural element. This makes it harder to detect and avoid.

People who work in high-risk environments are more vulnerable to developing silica-related illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, and kidney disease.

This article offers a brief overview of the most common silica-related illnesses. It also discusses the symptoms and treatment of illnesses such as silicosis, lung cancer, and tuberculosis.

What Is Silica?

Silica (silicon dioxide) is a natural chemical in dust, soil, and rocks. Construction and building materials contain silica and silica dust. This is why so many construction workers suffer from silica exposure.

Some occupational activities that increase a worker's risk of developing silicosis and other lung diseases include:

  • Sandblasting
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Foundry work
  • Quarrying

Workplace exposure without personal protective equipment puts workers at severe risk of silica-related diseases. The health effects of occupational exposure to silica can even prove deadly.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), crystalline silica exposure is as dangerous as asbestos and smoking. It also causes the same types of medical issues, including lung cancer, bronchitis, and tuberculosis (TB).

You may have a legal claim if you get sick from inhaling silica or silica dust. It all depends on whether you can prove how you came into contact with the harmful chemicals. It also depends on whether your attorney can prove that silica exposure is responsible for your illness.


Silicosis is an irreversible, disabling, and sometimes fatal lung disease you can get from respirable crystalline silica overexposure. Particles of crystalline silica can cause your lungs to form scar tissue. This reduces your lungs' ability to extract oxygen from the air, making it hard to breathe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three types of silicosis. These include the following:

  • Chronic silicosis: This develops after exposure to silica for more than ten years
  • Accelerated silicosis: People who come into contact with silica dust for three to five years develop this type of illness
  • Acute silicosis: This form of the disease can appear within weeks or months of encountering crystalline silica and crystalline silica dust

According to OSHA, over a million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica annually. Sadly, more than 250 American workers die from silicosis every year. There is no cure for silicosis. However, it is 100% preventable if your employer reduces or eliminates exposure.

The symptoms of silicosis include:

  • Harsh, dry cough
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath

Your doctor will run diagnostic tests to determine if you have silicosis. These include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Lung function test (Spirometry)

Unfortunately, your doctor can do nothing to reverse the damage from silica exposure. But there are treatment options. Your doctor may prescribe inhalers or oxygen therapy.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is another silica-related disease you can develop after long-term exposure to silica. The incidence of lung cancer in people who encounter silica in mining, manufacturing, construction, and similar jobs is much higher than in the general non-smoking population.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Coughing
  • Persistent chest pains
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Anemia

Although lung cancer is a severe disease, it can be treatable depending on the type of cancer (small cell or non-small cell) and its stage of progression.


People exposed to silica dust are at an increased risk of developing bronchitis. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the air passages between the windpipe and the lungs. Bronchitis can last for weeks or even months. It is one of the most uncomfortable illnesses to deal with.

This inflammation causes swelling and mucus production, which often results in a severe cough. Patients suffering from bronchitis due to silica exposure often have a recurring form known as chronic bronchitis.

This condition, also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), often lasts for months and can worsen over time.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent colds or respiratory infections
  • Headaches

Sadly, there isn't much your doctor can do to treat your bronchitis. They may offer you steroids and an inhaler. Usually, patients have no choice but to wait it out and use over-the-counter remedies.


People exposed to silica dust are at greater risk of developing tuberculosis. Dormant tuberculosis (TB) germs can become active in people with weakened immunity and body defenses. This results in an infection, which occurs most often in the lungs.

Symptoms of TB include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats

These illnesses may appear when you least expect them. So, you should be very careful when dealing with silica dust in the workplace. Get help as soon as you feel any symptoms.

For more information on the risks involved with silica exposure, visit Findlaw's Silicosis: Risk and Detection page.

What Other Health Issues May You Encounter?

The illnesses described here are only some of the adverse events related to silica. As stated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a wide range of medical issues are related to silica exposure.

It doesn't matter if your employer issues a disclaimer regarding occupational illnesses. They cannot avoid liability if they put you at risk. Epidemiological studies have shown that silica dust exposure can also cause a host of other illnesses, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Lung damages
  • Emphysema
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Pneumoconiosis
  • Fibrosis

A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

If you believe you are experiencing health problems due to working with or near silica dust, you should speak with an attorney to assess your legal rights. They'll review your claim and let you know how best to proceed. If your case has merit, you may recover compensation for your injuries.

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