If you have ever worked in an environment that exposed you to silica dust, you may be wondering, “how do you know if you have silicosis?” After all, silicosis can develop months, years or even decades after exposure.
How Do You Know if You Have Silicosis?
There are two ways for you to find out if you have silicosis. First, discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. Second, undergo diagnostic tests that can confirm your illness.
Symptoms of Silicosis
If you have silicosis, you will experience symptoms that suggest a lung-related illness. These symptoms may get worse over time. The symptoms of silicosis also may vary depending on the type of silicosis that you have. Consider the following:
Acute silicosis is marked by inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs. Symptoms generally become apparent around four or five years after exposure. If you have acute silicosis, you may experience symptoms including:
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood oxygen
- Weight loss
- Respiratory failure
Chronic silicosis is marked by swelling in the lungs and lymph nodes. Symptoms generally become apparent 10 or more years after initial exposure. If you have chronic silicosis, you may experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath after exercise
- Cough (may contain sputum)
- Heart failure
Accelerated silicosis is most common among people exposed to high concentrations of silica dust. Symptoms generally become apparent five to 10 years after initial exposure. The symptoms of accelerated silicosis are the same as acute and chronic types, but generally develop over a shorter period of time. Symptoms also progress much faster.
To determine for sure if you have silicosis, you will need to undergo a series of diagnostic tests. These tests may include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Chest X-ray
- Biopsy of lung tissue
- Breathing tests
- Sputum culture
Proper diagnosis of silicosis is important. There is currently no cure for the disease, but there are treatment options available to slow down progression and control symptoms.
What Should I Tell My Doctor?
If you currently work around silica dust, or have ever been exposed to it, talk to your doctor if you develop any lung-related illness. Silicosis is a disease in itself, but it can also make you vulnerable to other conditions. Talk to your doctor about silica dust exposure if you are diagnosed with:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic airway obstruction
Also, tell your doctor about your experience working around silica dust. You may not have been aware that you were exposed, but that does not change the fact that you may be at risk. Tell your doctor if you have ever worked in any of the following industries:
- Granite countertop manufacturing
- Porcelain or ceramic manufacturing
Answering the question, “how do you know if you have silicosis,” depends on you and your doctor. Once your doctor has a full medical and work history, and you complete diagnostic tests, you will know if you have silicosis. If so, you can then develop a plan for managing your symptoms and hopefully slowing down progression of the disease.