Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest word in the English language published in the Oxford English Dictionary. This word refers to silicosis which is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny dust particles of crystalline silica which is a combination of silicon and oxygen.
This mineral is widely found in the Earth’s crust. Silicosis is the most common occupational lung disease. It can develop within a few weeks to even decades after exposure. When people breathe in silica dust, they inhale tiny particles of silica which deposit in the alveoli of the lungs.
The alveoli are responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The disease mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in many occupations such as mining, glass manufacturing, demolition, and masonry work.
Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can affect your respiratory function. Silicosis is a preventable occupational disease that has no cure. Silicosis can also occur in women who have breast augmentation with silicone implants. These implants can leak causing neurological and rheumatologic issues. Surgery is usually required to remove and/or replace the implants.
About 2 million US workers remain potentially exposed to occupational silica.
There are three types of silicosis: acute, chronic, and accelerated. Acute silicosis causes cough, weight loss, and fatigue within a few weeks or years of exposure to inhaled silica. The next type is chronic silicosis, which appears 10 to 30 years after exposure and can affect the upper lungs and sometimes cause extensive scarring. The last type is accelerated silicosis, which occurs within 10 years of high-level exposure to silica dust.
People with acute silicosis experience cough, weight loss, tiredness, and may have fever or a sharp chest pain. You may also have shortness of breath over time, especially with chronic silicosis. Your healthcare provider might hear crackles or wheezing when they listen to your lungs. Having silicosis increases the risk of other problems, such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis. Over time, lung capacity decreases, and people with silicosis may need support with supplemental oxygen and other devices to help them breathe.
Your health care provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. You’ll be asked about your occupational history, hobbies, and other activities that may have exposed you to silica. The doctor may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out similar diseases. These tests include: chest x-ray, chest CT scan, pulmonary function tests, tests for tuberculosis, and blood tests for connective tissue diseases.
There are no effective treatments for silicosis available. Treatment focuses on the alleviation of symptoms. First and foremost, the patient should be removed from exposure to silica and other lung irritants. Respirators designed to filter out silica dust should be used. Smoking cigarettes should cease.
Patients are prescribed cough suppressants, antibiotics, TB prophylaxis, oxygen, and bronchodilators.
Other treatments include physiotherapy to help remove mucus from the lungs and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In extreme cases, the patient may become a candidate for lung transplantation.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult your primary care doctor as soon as possible.
Support and information is available at the American Lung Association at www.lung.org or 1-800-LUNGUSA.