If you have worked in any occupation that has exposed you to silica dust and you are now battling symptoms of silicosis, it is important to contact your healthcare provider to make a definitive diagnosis. Diagnosing silicosis is a process that requires a thorough examination and testing.
Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing with a lot of phlegm, chronic bronchitis, or chest pain should be taken very seriously.
When diagnosing silicosis, your healthcare provider will conduct a thorough medical examination, including reviewing your medical history. Make sure you tell your doctor that you have worked in an environment that exposed you to silica dust. He or she may want to gather a full occupational history as well.
Once your medical history is reviewed and an examination completed, your doctor will likely order a series of diagnostic tests. Your doctor may order some or all of the following tests:
- Chest X-Ray – X-rays can identify scarring or nodules in the lungs.
- Chest Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan – A CT scan combines x-ray images to allow healthcare providers to see different angles.
- Bronchoscopy – This test requires inserting a long, thin tube into your lungs. A camera attached to the end checks for damage. The camera sends images to a screen that doctors monitor during the procedure.
- Biopsy – A biopsy requires the doctor to take a sample of tissue. In the case of lung tissue, the doctor inserts a long needle through the chest and extracts a sample of a nodule identified via other tests. This tissue is then examined under a microscope to check for signs of silicosis.
- Sputum Test – A sputum test requires taking a sample of phlegm that you cough up during a doctor visit. The phlegm is then tested for signs of bacteria, fungus, viruses, or diseases like tuberculosis or silicosis.
During the diagnostic process, your doctor may ask you if you are still working in a hazardous environment. If so, he or she may ask that you avoid further exposure to silica dust, either by taking protective measures, or by making an occupational change.
Lifestyle changes are often recommended following a diagnosis. If you or someone in your household smokes tobacco products, you will likely be asked to limit your exposure to those products or secondhand smoke as well. Exposure to irritants can increase your symptoms or lead to additional respiratory problems.