Silicosis - acute

Alternative names

Acute Silicosis is a respiratory disease caused by inhalation of silicon dioxide or crystalline silica without adequate protection.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Silicosis is lung inflammation caused by intense exposure to silica over several months, whereas chronic Silicosis is slowly progressive lung scarring, nodules, and inflammation resulting from decades of exposure to silica dusts. The disease occurs mainly in people who work in sandblasting, mining, quarrying, grinding, and those who work in foundries. The incidence of Silicosis is decreasing due to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations requiring the use of protective equipment.


Signs and tests

Examination may show a bluish coloration (cyanosis) of the mucous membranes. Often, abnormal lung sounds can be heard with a stethoscope.

Possible tests include the following:

  • Chest x-ray that may show lung scarring, inflammation, and nodules (Sometimes, an enlarged heart and dilated pulmonary arteries can be seen.)  
  • Pulmonary function tests  
  • Arterial blood gases that show low concentration of oxygen  
  • Chest CT scan  
  • Lung biopsy  
  • Bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL)  
  • Sputum analysis


There is no specific treatment for Silicosis, as the fibrotic (scarring) process is thought to be irreversible. Not being exposed to silica is important to minimize progression of the disease.

Supportive treatment includes cough suppression medications, bronchodilators, and oxygen if needed for Shortness of breath. Antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory infections as needed. All Silicosis patients should be screened for Tuberculosis and treated if indicated.

Expectations (prognosis)
The outcome is often rapidly progressive respiratory failure possibly resulting in death.

A complication is respiratory failure. Patients with Silicosis are at increased risk of developing Pulmonary tuberculosis.

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have an occupational exposure to silica and symptoms develop.

If you work in a high-risk occupation, wear a dust mask and do not smoke. Other protection such as respirators may be indicated.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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