by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that has crystalline silica in it. In acute silicosis, the disease happens after weeks or months of being around high levels of silica.


Silica dust can come from cutting, drilling, breaking, or grinding soil, sand, granite, or other items. It becomes trapped in the lungs when the dust gets in the air that people breathe.

Pathway to Lungs
Respiratory Pathway
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Risk Factors

The risk is higher in people who spend time around air that has silica dust in it. Jobs that involve these tasks also raise the risk:

  • Sandblasting or rock crushing (for road base)
  • Construction or masonry
  • Wrecking and demolition
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Concrete or drywall finishing
  • Mining or rock drilling
  • Stone milling or cutting
  • Sand and gravel screening
  • Agriculture
  • Ceramics, clay, pottery
  • Glassmaking
  • Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
  • Making soaps and detergents


Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to five years after exposure.

A person may have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your work history. A physical exam will be done.

Pictures may be taken to look for signs of damage. This can be done with a chest x-ray.

Pulmonary Function Test
Lung test
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There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to avoid silica dust so the lungs do not get damaged more. To help with breathing the doctor may advise:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Medicines to improve air flow, ease cough, or treat infection
  • Oxygen therapy to support breathing
  • Lung rehabilitation
  • A lung transplant


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Avoiding air that has silica dust in it
  • Wearing a mask or respirator on the job to avoid breathing in air that has silica dust in it
  • Working in well-ventilated areas


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration—US Department of Labor 


Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 

Canadian Lung Association 


Silicosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed April 28, 2022.

Silicosis: Learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: Accessed April 28, 2022.

Silicosis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed April 28, 2022.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2022
  • Update Date: 04/28/2022