Acute Silicosis
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Acute Silicosis

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Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing crystalline silica-containing dust. In acute silicosis, the disease occurs after just weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica. This is a serious condition, so contact your doctor immediately if you think you may have it.


Concrete, masonry, sandstone, rock, paint, and other abrasives contain crystalline silica. When these materials are cut, broken, crushed, drilled, ground, or blasted, silica dust may be produced. Crystalline silica is also found in soil, mortar, plaster, and shingles.

When silica dust gets into the air you breathe, it may become trapped in your lungs. As the dust builds up in your lungs, they become increasingly damaged, making it hard for you to breathe.

Pathway to Lungs

Respiratory Pathway

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Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Working in the following occupations increases your chance of acute silicosis. If you work in any of these occupations, tell your doctor:

  • Sandblasting (the most common cause of acute silicosis)
  • Construction
  • Wrecking and demolition
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Masonry
  • Concrete finishing
  • Drywall finishing
  • Rock drilling
  • Stone milling or cutting
  • Mining
  • Sand and gravel screening
  • Rock crushing (for road base)
  • Agriculture
  • Ceramics, clay, pottery
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
  • Manufacturing of soaps and detergents
  • Shipyards, railroads


In acute silicosis, symptoms may appear within a few weeks to two years after exposure to high levels of silica dust. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to acute silicosis. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe cough
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Chest pains
  • Respiratory failure


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical and occupational history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include the following:

Peak Flow Meter—Pulmonary Function Test

Lung test

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There is no specific treatment for silicosis. If you have acute silicosis, you will be advised to avoid additional exposure to silica dust. Your doctor may also treat other conditions associated with acute silicosis, such as heart disease and tuberculosis. You will also be advised to stop smoking .


If your job puts you at risk of being exposed to silica dust, take the following steps to help prevent silicosis:

  • Avoid working in dust whenever possible.
  • Use water sprays (eg, wet dust with a water hose, use saws and drills that add water) and ventilation when working in confined structures.
  • If applicable, wear your employer-provided respirator designed for protection against crystalline silica. You cannot have a beard or mustache if you use a tight-fitting respiratory.
  • Take advantage of health screenings offered by your employer.
  • Practice good personal hygiene in the workplace.
  • Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco near dusty areas.
  • After exposure to dust, wash your hands before eating, drinking, or smoking .
  • Park your car where it will not become contaminated.
  • Shower and change before leaving work.


Nationals Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety

Canadian Lung Association


Silicosis. EBSCO Dynamed website. Available at: . Accessed November 28, 2006.

Silicosis: learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: . Accessed November 28, 3006.

What physicians need to know about occupational silicosis and silica exposure sources. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed November 28, 3006.

Last reviewed February 2008 by Jill Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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