Silica Exposure: Illnesses
People employed in an environment in which exposure to silica dust is commonplace are at an increased risk of developing a number of adverse health conditions. If you work in such an environment, it is important to undergo frequent medical examinations, and to be on the lookout for potential warning signs. If you believe that you are experiencing health problems due to your work around silica dust, you should speak with an attorney to assess your legal rights to compensation for your injuries.
Following is a brief overview of the most common illnesses associated with exposure to silica dust: silicosis, lung cancer, bronchitis, and tuberculosis.
Silicosis is a disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. Overexposure to dust that contains microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs, which reduces the lungs' ability to extract oxygen from the air we breathe. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers, and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.
Lung cancer causes a number of deaths each year in persons suffering from silicosis and similar respiratory illnesses. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are or were directly exposed to 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 are coughing, persistent chest pains, weight loss, hoarseness, and anemia. Although lung cancer is a very serious disease, it can be treatable depending on the type of cancer (small cell or non-small cell) and the stage of its progression.
People exposed to silica dust are at an increased risk of developing bronchitis, which is an inflammation of the air passages found between the windpipe and the lungs. This inflammation causes swelling and mucus production, often resulting 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, often lasts for months and can actually worsen over time. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include persistent cough, fatigue, abnormal shortness of breath, wheezing, frequent colds or respiratory infections, and headaches.
People exposed to silica dust (especially those already suffering from silicosis) can be at greater risk for developing tuberculosis. This is because dormant tuberculosis (TB) germs can become active in people whose immunity and body defenses are weakened. This results in an infection, which occurs most often in the lungs. Symptoms of TB include persistent cough, fevers, weight loss, and night sweats.
These common illnesses may arise when you least expect them. Therefore, you should be very careful when dealing with silica dust in the workplace and get help as soon as you feel any symptoms coming on. For more information on the risks involved with silica exposure, visit Findlaw’s Silicosis: Risk and Detection page.
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