Tackling Silicosis One Breath at a Time

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Forms of Silicosis

There are several types of Silicosis which are separated into what are called Classification based on the disease’s severity, radiographic pattern, onset, and rapidity of progression.

Acute silicosis


Silicosis that develops from a few weeks to 5 years after exposure to high concentrations of respirable silica dust. This is also known as Silicoproteinosis.


Symptoms of acute silicosis include more rapid onset of severe disabling shortness of breath, cough, weakness, and weight loss, often leading to death.


The x-ray usually reveals a diffuse alveolar filling with air bronchograms, described as a ground-glass appearance, and similar to pneumoniapulmonary edema, alveolar hemorrhage, and alveolar cell lung cancer


Complicated silicosis


Silicosis can become “complicated” by the development of severe scarring (progressive massive fibrosis, or also known as conglomerate silicosis), where the small nodules gradually become confluent, reaching a size of 1 cm or greater.


PMF is associated with more severe symptoms and respiratory impairment than simple disease. Silicosis can also be complicated by other lung disease, such as tuberculosis, non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection, fungal infection, certain autoimmune diseases, and lung cancer.


Complicated silicosis is more common with accelerated silicosis than with the chronic version.


Accelerated silicosis


Silicosis that typically develops 5–10 years after first exposure to higher concentrations of silica dust. Symptoms and x-ray findings are like chronic simple silicosis, but occur earlier and tend to progress more rapidly.


Patients with accelerated silicosis are at greater risk for complicated disease, including progressive massive fibrosis.


Chronic simple silicosis


Usually resulting from long-term exposure (10 years or more) to relatively low concentrations of silica dust and usually appearing 10–30 years after first exposure. This is the most common type of silicosis.


Patients with this type of silicosis, especially early on, may not have obvious signs or symptoms of disease, but abnormalities may be detected by x-ray. Chronic cough and exertional dyspnea (shortness of breath) are common findings. Radiographically, chronic simple silicosis reveals a profusion of small (<10 mm in diameter) opacities, typically rounded, and predominating in the upper lung zones.