Silica Dust Exposure Symptoms – What to Look For

Silica dust is a common – and potentially dangerous – mineral found in many applications and industries around the world. Any occupation that involves the handling of rock, sand, or brick – especially those in the tunneling, quarrying, and drilling fields – carries the risk of silica dust exposure. Inhaling silica dust can lead to disabling and even fatal lung disease, and it is important to know the potential symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Silicosis

Silica dust exposure symptoms are generally a sign of silicosis – a lung disorder caused by breathing in dust containing crystalline silica particles. If inhaled, this silica dust becomes embedded in the lungs. The lung tissue reacts by forming nodules and scar tissue around the trapped particles. Scar tissue causes the lungs to harden, which greatly impacts lung function and causes silica dust exposure symptoms. These symptoms will vary with the three main types of silicosis.

Acute Silicosis Symptoms

Acute silicosis affects workers exposed to the highest concentrations of silica dust. Symptoms may begin within a few weeks for some, while others may not notice a change in their breathing for four to five years after the initial exposure. Symptoms of acute silicosis include:

  • Shortness of breath, which worsens rapidly
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Unfortunately, for many people, respiratory failure develops within two years of the onset of symptoms. This further highlights the importance of the new OSHA silica regulations.

Chronic Silicosis Symptoms

Chronic silicosis typically develops after long-term exposure to relatively low concentrations of crystalline silica. The first symptoms often occur after ten or more years of exposure, and the condition may be present for years before the first symptoms begin. When they do start, symptoms generally include:

  • Shortness of breath during activity and/or at rest
  • Persistent cough
  • Bluish skin
  • Breathing that worsens even if the party no longer works around silica

Silica dust exposure can lead to permanent lung damage, and the result may be dangerously low oxygen levels within the blood. This silica dust exposure symptom may strain the heart, leading to potentially fatal heart failure.

Accelerated Silicosis Symptoms

Accelerated silicosis results from the exposure to high crystalline silica concentrations. It typically develops 5-10 years after the initial silica dust exposure. Individuals with accelerated silicosis have the same symptoms as those with chronic silicosis, but those symptoms progress at a faster rate.

Silica Dust Exposure Prevention

The best way to prevent silica dust symptoms is to implement a sound prevention plan. Employers involved with the handling and use of silica are required by law to incorporate worker safety measures. Engineering controls like work displacement and ventilation systems are necessary. These, in combination with specialized tools to collect dust and reduce silica exposure, can dramatically improve workplace health and safety.

There is currently no known cure for silicosis, but the condition is 100% preventable with the right silica safety procedures. At CS Unitec, we are committed to helping you protect your employees from this devastating disorder. With an extensive inventory of dust collection and disposal tools and equipment, we will bring your exposure prevention plan to life. Contact us today to learn more.

For more information on how to prevent silica-related health issues, take a look at our OSHA Silica Dust Regulations Compliance whitepaper.