Silicosis is a life threatening lung disease predominately found in the mining sector that poses a danger to an increasing number of workers around Mzansi. The condition is caused by breathing in tiny little bits of a mineral called silica which is found in sand and rocks such as granite.
If breathed in over a long period of time, it can destroy a person’s breathing capability. The tiny Silica dust bits act as tiny blades in the lungs, which create small cuts that can scar the lung tissue when it is inhaled through the nose or mouth.
This scar tissue can limit the ability of the lungs to stretch and subsequently limits the amount of air that can be breathed, resulting in an increased difficulty in breathing.
Silica can be found in many industries but are common in mining, quarrying, loading or transporting of silica or sand.
- Mine workers are at the greatest risk of developing silicosis because they deal with silica in their work.
- Construction workers involved in building highways or tunnels, with exposure to cement, plastics, rubber and tile.
- Sand blasting.
- Glass industries (unloading, storage and mixing of silica sand).
Silicosis is condition that gets worse over time. Early symptoms may include:
- Shortness or weakness of breathe
- Wheezing and increased tiredness
- Chest pain
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Respiratory fever such as a cold
There is no specific medical treatment for silicosis, but it is possible to reduce the symptoms.
Cough medicine can help with cough symptoms, while antibiotics can help to treat respiratory infections. Inhalers can be used to open up the airways and for some patients oxygen masks can be worn to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Patients with silicosis should avoid further silica exposure as well as smoking.
Because silicosis patients are at higher risk of contracting TB, they should be tested regularly. Patients with severe silicosis may require a lung transplant.