Silicosis is an occupational lung disease borne from the most unsuspecting source – silica dust. This commonplace mineral, found in soil and an array of rocks, might seem harmless but is, in fact, potentially lethal. When the dust is inhaled, it can result in lung scarring and Silicosis, a form of pulmonary fibrosis.

It impacts construction workers, miners, countertop fabricators, foundry workers, and people who work in ceramic manufacturing. Silica particles inflame the lungs and cause scarring and lung nodules. 

It is important to understand the symptoms associated with Silicosis, as that is the best way to detect it early, ensure prompt medical intervention, and be legal if necessary. 

What is Silicosis? 

There are three types of Silicosis. Every form of Silicosis shares the same symptoms. The difference between these forms of the disease is the length of time before symptoms surface. 

  • Accelerated

Accelerated Silicosis requires between three and ten years of silica dust exposure. 

  • Acute

Acute Silicosis develops quickly, and symptoms appear within weeks, possibly months, of being exposed to silica dust. 

  • Chronic

Chronic Silicosis is when silica dust exposure takes place over a decade. 

Common Symptoms of Silicosis 

  • A wheeze
  • A dry, persistent cough
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath during exercise 

Some people will experience no symptoms in the disease’s early stages. Symptoms typically worsen as the condition progresses, to the point where you may struggle to climb stairs, sleep, or eat. 

Delayed Onset of Silicosis Symptoms 

If you experience symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately. It’s important to address symptoms quickly, even if your silica exposure was long in the past. Later symptoms of the disease can include weight loss, a sudden fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, swollen legs, blue lips, and shortness of breath. 

Complications and Associated Conditions 

Silicosis can lead to other health problems. It may develop into COPD, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, or lung cancer. It also increases the risk of kidney disease, scleroderma, and a range of autoimmune diseases. 

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation 

Your doctor will discuss your medical history and lifestyle and ask about existing symptoms. 

  • The first diagnostic tool is an X-ray. 
  • The second diagnostic tool is lung function tests. 

Additional diagnostic tests, including a sputum test, bronchoscopy, or lung biopsy, may be required. If someone you work with has been diagnosed, you should be evaluated. 

Legal Considerations and Workers’ Compensation 

The likelihood of a successful compensation claim for Silicosis will depend on early diagnosis, medical evidence, evidence of exposure, and your legal representation. 

An early diagnosis helps bolster your claim, but it also benefits your treatment outcomes. 

You will need medical evidence that supports your diagnosis, this is a necessary part of the claims process and you will also need to show you were exposed. Work records are a good way to evidence this. 

Your legal representation will be a key element. A skilled team will help you gather the needed evidence and file your claim. If the matter has to go to court, they will provide you with legal support throughout the process. If you have insurance, you may also be able to claim it. 

Supportive Treatment and Disease Management

 There is no cure, but there are treatment and management plans to slow its progress and provide symptom relief. Medications such as albuterol can help improve airflow. In some cases, you may need supplemental oxygen. Cough medicines and corticosteroids are also commonly used. A lung transplant may be necessary in extreme cases. 

You can make changes in your life to help relieve symptoms, including cutting out tobacco products, changing careers, or using additional personal protective equipment. Regular vaccines can also protect your airways. 

As it can develop into other health conditions, it’s important to adhere to your doctor’s recommended treatments and keep up with ongoing monitoring. 

Prevention and Occupational Health Measures 

Australia has health and safety standards in place to help prevent the likelihood of Silicosis. Everyone must comply with health and safety, including protective masks, and wetting materials and tools to suppress dust. In addition, workers should avoid prolonged silica dust exposure and tools should be equipped with a dust-collecting attachment. This is key to managing silica dust and preventing Silicosis. 

Employees should also visit their primary care physician for regular health monitoring to ensure they are healthy. 

Final Thoughts 

You may be entitled to silicosis compensation if you have been diagnosed with silicosis in Australia. The Workers’ Compensation Act 1987 covers workers exposed to silica dust and developed Silicosis as a result. The silicosis compensation you receive can be used to pay for medical expenses, it can cover lost income, help you pay for vocational re-training, and cover the cost of rehabilitation. 

Reach out to the team at AJB Stevens to discuss your case and whether you are eligible for compensation for Silicosis in Australia.