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Diseases of the lungs can come in different shapes and sizes but typically present with difficulty breathing. Silicosis is no exception but it is a disease that is almost impossible to treat so it is best to limit the chances of getting the disease.

As we have seen already, suspicious lesions on the lungs could indicate a number of potential causes. These could range from lesions for lung cancer to just common signs of a lung infection that will most likely resolve on their own. There are many more possibilities that do not have to fall on the extremes of this scale. Numerous jobs and careers have unforeseen risks that can have a significant impact on your overall health. Breathing in the toxic air for an extended period of time can give rise to a lung parenchymal disease. These diseases are serious occurrences and can be as lethal as lung cancer. Here, I will highlight one of the most common types of lung parenchyma diseases referred to as silicosis and the signs of silicosis you need to be aware of. 

What is Silicosis? 

Thankfully, most people are not at risk for silicosis but if you are from a developing country with high amounts of air pollution or you have picked the wrong job, you could be putting yourself at risk on a daily basis. 

The mining industry is typically where you will see the highest concentrations of silicosis cases. In one investigation, it is believed that nearly 20 percent of the mining force in a South African gold mine is affected with silicosis. The prevalence rates are likely to be as high in other regions around the world [1]. 

Silicosis occurs because you are constantly inhaling the fine silica particles that can be in high concentrations in a mine site which can lead to some pathological changes in your lungs after time. Masks and proper ventilation in a mine shaft may help, but due to the small size of some of these particulates, masks may not even be effective at removing the small particles that can pass through the barriers on your device. [2]

Patients with this disease can expect to have a variety of respiratory problems. In an investigation of 144 Finnish patients who suffered from silicosis, it was determined that dyspnea (difficulty breathing) and increased mucus production were some of the more irritating symptoms of this disease

Nearly 90 percent of these patients reported having a true difficulty when trying to catch their breath. [3]  

The best way to diagnosis the disease is to use the same type of tests that you will need if you are being tested for asthma. Spirometry measures will help establish how effectively your lungs are working. Any lung parenchymal disease is considered to be a restrictive lung disease so your lungs will not be able to hold the same amount of air and will be much stiffer than they should be. [4]

What is the treatment for silicosis

Any profession that requires workers to be in high concentrations of silica can be a risk factor for the disease. Once this dust is able to get into your lungs, there is a change that the normally soft tissue of your lungs turns into a very hard and inelastic version. This is the process called fibrosis and unfortunately, it is an irreversible process. A careful history and diagnostic studies like chest X-ray and computed tomography (CT) scanning are the keys in order to make a diagnosis of silicosis. [5]

When it comes to the actual imaging studies, silicosis can present with a very unique presentation. In most cases, there will be numerous suspicious lesions on the lungs that will have doctors initial worry about advanced lung cancer. Although a chest X-ray will typically be ordered first in order to get an initial assessment, studies show that a CT scan is far more accurate at determining the full involvement of the disease. [6] Additional markers are now begin investigated to get a clearer picture of this disease. The hope is to be able to identify warning signs earlier to allow workers to get out of the risky environment sooner to prevent the long-term damage from this silica dust [7]. 

Once the signs of silicosis have been confirmed, the prognosis of the disease depends almost exclusively on the amount of time you had been working in this environment. Spending around 1 year in a mine in China is attributed to a diagnosis of stage 1 silicosis which corresponds to a survival time of roughly 33 years after being in the mines. Longer durations of time in these mines will significantly reduce the life expectancy of a worker with silicosis. [8

Because there is no treatment for this disease, the best thing that you can do is try to remove yourself from that line of work if you start to notice shortness of breath [9]. 

The mining industry, pottery industry and even construction industry all have a much higher risk for the disease than other fields so it is imperative that you limit your risks and change jobs if possible. 

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