Tackling Silicosis One Breath at a Time

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What is Silicosis?

The name Silicosis is the short form for Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis which also happens to be the longest word in the English Dictionary. The word ‘Silicosis’ comes from the Latin word Silex, or flint and was named in 1870 by Achille Visconti (1836–1911). The condition relating to respiratory ill health from exposure to dust however dates to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Georgius Agricola the father of minerology, in the mid-16th century, wrote about lung problems from dust inhalation in miners and the father of occupational medicine Bernardino Ramazzini in 1713 wrote about asthmatic symptoms and sand-like substances in the lungs of stone cutters.

With the coming of industrialization this also increased dust generation as workplaces moved away from traditional hand tools to mechanicalized processes. For instance, the introduction of the pneumatic hammer drill in 1897 and sandblasting in circa 1904 both significantly contributed to higher levels of dust generation and this had a knock-on effect in increasing silicosis prevalence.

Over the years Silicosis has been referred to by several different names such as Miner’s Phthisis, Grinder’s Asthma, Potter’s Rot amongst others and can affect both humans and animals such as equine (horses). Silicosis has the ominous title of being known as the King of Occupational Diseases due to its being incurable and with no known cure or treatment, with some limited benefits of therapy.