Silica is a natural mineral found in materials like rocks, sand, and clay. When you inhale silica dust, they become trapped in lung tissue causing inflammation and scarring. This condition is called silicosis which results in permanent lung damage. So there is no cure and specific treatment for this disease which puts preventive measures in the spotlight.
Workers that are involved for example in constructions, mining, quarrying, sandblasting, or glass production are among the individuals with the highest risk of developing the condition. Symptoms of silicosis usually start to present after many years of exposure, however, it may also occur after only a few months of very heavy exposure. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms include persistent cough, sputum, and shortness of breath. People also lose weight and have fatigue over time.
If someone has exposure to silica dust and presents with these complaints, diagnosis is made by chest radiograph, tomography, berata and lung function tests and in unclear cases, lung biopsy would be needed. People who have silicosis are also at risk of developing diseases such as lung cancer and tuberculosis.
I would like to emphasize again that there is no cure for silicosis, but we can prevent and detect it in the early stages. Providing periodic medical examinations and personal protective equipment and training for workers in high risk settings are essential. Moreover, doing exposure assessments and engineering controls at the workplace such as water spray systems and effective ventilation are simple but efficient ways to reduce hazards and save lives.
By Dr. Hamit Demir (IEH Health Officer, Paris)