Silicosis Surveillance and Intervention

It's Not Just Dust, It's Silica!

Silicosis is a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to dust containing crystalline silica. Silicosis cannot be cured, but it can be prevented.

Crystalline silica is found in materials such as sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, and many building and landscaping materials. Breathing dust generated from working with these materials can scar the lungs. Once silicosis develops, the damage is permanent. The scarring of the lung tissue cannot be reversed.

Symptoms and Types of Silicosis

Silicosis begins with few, if any, symptoms. Once present, these symptoms can include shortness of breath, severe cough, wheezing, and chest tightness. Breathing dust containing crystalline silica has also been linked to other diseases such as tuberculosis, kidney disease, and lung cancer. Symptoms can include fever, weight loss, and night sweats. These symptoms can become worse over time, leading to death.

There are three types of silicosis:

  • Acute silicosis: Can occur after only weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica. Death can occur within months.
  • Accelerated silicosis: Results from exposure to high levels of crystalline silica and occurs 5 to 10 years after exposure.
  • Chronic silicosis: Usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at low levels. This is the most common type of silicosis.
Last Reviewed: 9/16/2016