If you work in a job around crystalline silica, you can breathe in dust that will cause lung damage. You can help to prevent silicosis if you use protective equipment.


Inhaling silica (silicon dioxide) particles leads to scarring (fibrosis) in the lungs of people with silicosis.
Three symptoms of silicosis, a work-related lung disease, are inflammation (swelling), fibrosis (scarring) and coughing.

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling very tiny crystalline particles of silicon dioxide, or silica. If you have it, you’ll have symptoms of coughing, inflammation (swelling) and fibrosis (scarring).

Those three symptoms identify a group of diseases called pneumoconioses. These diseases, caused by dust inhalation, are often described as work-related. They include diseases like asbestos-related conditions. Silicosis is a work-related lung disease — you get it because you’re breathing in silica crystals at your job.

You can’t cure or reverse silicosis, but your providers can treat it.


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Are there types of silicosis?

Silicosis may develop in three ways. They are:

  • Chronic silicosis: This usually happens when you’ve been exposed to breathable dust for more than 10 years. The amount of silica in the dust is also a factor. There are these forms of chronic silicosis: simple silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis.
  • Subacute silicosis: This type, also called accelerated silicosis, happens over a shorter period of time, like two to five years. Even though the time is shorter, your exposure is heavier.
  • Acute silicosis: You can get this type by having intense exposure to particles made up of a large percentage of silica over a period of time that is as short as several months.

Who does silicosis affect?

Silicosis is mostly related to the job that you do. If you work in the following industries, you’re more likely to develop silicosis than other people.

  • Mining and quarrying.
  • Construction, building and demolition.
  • Stone work, including stone countertop manufacturing.
  • Pottery, ceramics and glassmaking.
  • Sandblasting.
  • Foundry work.


How does this condition affect my body?

Silica interacts with the respiratory tract in a harmful way. It seems to damage alveolar macrophages. These macrophages are part of the immune system and are the respiratory system’s core line of defense.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs and symptoms of silicosis?

There are three main symptoms of silicosis:

These signs and symptoms can cause:


What causes silicosis?

Silicosis is caused by the damage to your lungs that happens when you breathe in silica dust. This usually happens in an occupational (job-related) setting.

Is it contagious?

No, silicosis isn’t contagious. It’s not caused by a virus or bacteria. You can’t get it from someone or give it to someone if you have it.

Diagnosis and Tests

What tests will be done to diagnose silicosis?

Your healthcare provider will begin by taking a medical history and making a physical examination. Asking questions about how long you may have worked in a job known to cause silicosis will be an important part of the process.

Your provider might find silicosis on an imaging test even if you don’t have symptoms. They might hear abnormal breath sounds while they examine you.

You may have the following tests:

  • Imaging tests: These include chest X-rays and high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scans. There are certain things that a provider can see on these types of tests that will lead to a diagnosis of silicosis.
  • Pulmonary function tests: These tests evaluate how well your lungs are working.
  • Laboratory tests: These tests may be done to rule out other conditions like some types of infections. This may include a tuberculosis skin test. There’s no lab test to prove you have silicosis.
  • Bronchoalveolar lavage: This test ‘washes’ your lungs and examines the fluid that is extracted.
  • Lung biopsy: This test, which involves removing a small bit of tissue from your lungs, is ordered only rarely.

Management and Treatment

How is silicosis treated?

You can only manage silicosis. You can’t cure silicosis. Some tips for managing silicosis include:

  • Quit smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Use personal protective equipment or change jobs.
  • Use a bronchodilator to improve airflow.
  • Get flu and pneumonia vaccines to help protect your airways.
  • Use supplemental oxygen if necessary.

In some cases, your provider may recommend lung transplant surgery.

There are, of course, ongoing clinical trials working on finding a treatment for silicosis. Your provider might suggest that you participate. Researchers are using drugs called antifibrotics to treat some forms of silicosis. While some of these are experimental, one drug called nintedanib (OFEV®) is FDA approved.


How can I reduce my risk of getting silicosis?

Despite the fact that even ancient Greeks and Romans recognized silicosis and the risk of inhaling dust, people still get the disease.

If you aren’t able to avoid professions that are risky, you can reduce your risk by using the appropriate personal protective equipment and following workplace safety policies.

If your work puts you at high-risk, get screened through your employer. Early detection is key to preventing severe disease.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) if I have silicosis?

Your outlook depends on many factors, including how much silica you’ve been exposed to and the length of time you were exposed. Your age and whether you have other diseases matter, as does whether or not your exposure continues.

The outlook for people who develop progressive massive fibrosis is less positive.

Complications associated with silicosis

People who have silicosis are at increased risk for the following conditions:

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I have silicosis?

If you have silicosis, you should:

  • Quit smoking and using tobacco products.
  • Avoid other lung irritants like secondhand smoke and other air pollutants.
  • Get all of the vaccines your provider recommends.
  • Use the correct personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks or respirators, if you continue to work in a place with silica dust. Regular dust masks or face coverings aren’t enough.
  • Follow proper procedure for working in a place with silica dust, including ventilation and using wetness to keep the dust down.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you work in a silica-related industry, you should have regular check-ups to make sure you’re healthy. If you experience any coughing or trouble breathing, see your provider.

If you’ve been diagnosed with silicosis, and you have new signs or symptoms that concern you (such as fever, worsened breathing or unintended weight loss), contact your healthcare provider.

Additional Common Questions

Is silicosis the same as cancer?

No, silicosis isn’t cancer. It doesn’t cause your cells to grow out of control. However, silicosis may be a factor in developing lung cancer.

Can exercise help if I have silicosis?

Exercise may be helpful if you have silicosis. You should discuss your exercise plans with your healthcare provider. They might suggest pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes exercises to help you improve your breathing.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you develop a cough and trouble breathing, and you’ve worked with silica and its dust for years, you may have silicosis. This lung condition is serious and has no cure, but it can be treated. Talk to your healthcare provider and take steps to stay healthy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/18/2022.

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