Silica is one of the most abundant elements in our environment. It is found in rocks, soil, water, air and living organisms. Silica plays an essential role in all life processes. Without it there would be no oxygen or sunlight to sustain us; without oxygen we could not breathe; without sunlight we couldn’t grow food and live. However, too much silica can cause certain health problems such as cancer and other diseases.
The amount of silica in the earth’s crust varies from place to place, but it ranges between 0.1% and 1%. In general, the higher the concentration of silica in our environment, the lower are its levels in human bodies.
Some studies have shown that even small amounts of silica can increase risk for lung cancer.
In humans, there is a range of concentrations at which effects occur: 0.05 mg/L (0.005%) to 5 mg/L (5%).
These values are based on animal experiments, epidemiological studies and clinical trials.
There is no evidence that consuming less than 0.05 mg/L of silica will lead to any adverse health effects.
However, some research suggests that drinking more than 10 milligrams per day may increase the risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. Drinking more than 50 milligrams per day increases the risk of stroke and kidney failure.
It is important to understand that both excessively low and excessively high levels of silica can be harmful. If we don’t get enough silica in our water or food, our bodies develop a condition known as “silica deficiency.” This may lead to an increased risk of cancer, bone diseases, reproductive health issues, and more.
With too much silica in the body, we can develop “silicosis” or “sick building syndrome,” both of which are potentially fatal.
Research suggests that the quality and type of the silica in our environment has a direct relationship to human health. In fact, ongoing studies have linked higher levels of silica in water with a lower risk of cancer.
Silicosis is caused by breathing high concentrations of silicon dioxide dust. Silicosis results in a long-term inflammation and fibrosis of lung tissue, as well as development of nodular masses.
Silicosis is not the same as “asbestosis.” Asbestos causes a similar disease. However, these two diseases are very different.
There are two types of silicosis: acute and chronic. The main difference between the two is the length of time it takes to develop. Acute silicosis can develop within weeks or even days, but in most cases it develops over a period of years.
The symptoms of silicosis are:
*Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
*Cough (dry or otherwise)
As the disease advances, people may also suffer from:
*Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity)
*Edema (swelling of the legs and feet)
*General weakness and fatigue.
If the condition is allowed to progress, people may suffer a fatal heart or lung disease.
Silicosis can be prevented by limiting the amount of silica dust in the air we breathe. The most effective way to do this is to wear proper safety equipment while working with it.
Research suggests that silicosis could also be prevented by:
*Learning not to breathe through the mouth when working with large amounts of silica dust.
*Reducing the amount of dust that can enter a room. For instance, installing proper ventilation or a dust collection system.
There are several types of treatment for silicosis, most of which involve drugs or antibiotics to slow the condition’s progress. In some cases, lung transplantation is also required.
Silicosis is not curable, so early detection is vital to survival.
How do you know if you have silicosis?
People with this condition usually have no symptoms during the early stages. As symptoms begin to show, people may suffer from:
*A dry or persistent cough
*Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
The best way to prevent silicosis is by working with a well-ventilated area and wearing a mask or respirator while working with large amounts of dust. If you think you might have silicosis, see a doctor immediately. By taking immediate action you may be able to protect your lungs and save your life.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is an incurable and potentially fatal lung disease that’s caused by breathing in fine particles of crystalline silica dust. Over time, the dust builds up in your lungs and causes inflammation and scarring. This condition is known as a pneumoconiosis. In severe cases, it can cause emphysema or bronchitis.
Who suffers from silicosis?
Silicosis is common among people who work in industries that involve working with materials that contain free silicon (Si). For instance, workers in the mining and manufacturing industries can come into contact with crystalline silica. Other jobs that commonly involve exposure to silica dust include:
*Tile setters and finishers.
As you can see, these types of jobs are more common in developing countries where safety regulations may not be followed as closely as they are in the U.S.
What are the symptoms of silicosis?
Silicosis develops over a long period of time. Most people who have this condition don’t show any symptoms until at least five or ten years after they’re first exposed to silica dust.
However, once the condition begins to manifest itself, it progresses quickly and becomes life-threatening. The most common symptoms of silicosis are:
*Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Other signs that you may have this condition include:
*Weight loss for no apparent reason
*Loss of appetite.
What causes silicosis?
As we’ve mentioned before, silicosis is caused by breathing in free silica dust. The dust gets into your lungs and stays there, eventually building up and causing tissue damage. Silica is a hard mineral that’s found in sand, as well as more obscure sources like volcanic dust, diatomaceous earth (which is used to make pillows and body powder), and even unrefined sugar.
The most common cause of silicosis is sandblasting. This involves shooting a jet of sand at high pressure to smooth or finish a surface. Because the sand is shot at such high speed and concentration, it creates a lot of dust that can easily be breathed in.
When workers don’t wear proper masks when working with this technique, they run the risk of developing silicosis.
How is silicosis diagnosed?
If you show signs of having this condition, your doctor might order a CT scan or x-ray to look for any blockages or scarring in your lungs. They can then confirm the presence of silicosis through a biopsy. During this procedure, they’ll take a sample of tissue from your lungs and examine it under a microscope.
How is silicosis treated?
There’s no known cure for silicosis. Instead, treatment involves controlling any symptoms and making you as comfortable as possible. Even if you receive treatment, the condition will almost certainly get worse and lead to your death.
The most common treatments for silicosis are:
*Corticosteroids: These drugs suppress your immune system and help reduce the areas of inflammation in your lungs. Although they’re effective at controlling short-term symptoms, their long-term use can increase your chances of developing serious side effects.
*Antibiotics: If your condition becomes infected with bacteria, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in addition to the corticosteroids.
*Pulmonary rehabilitation: This program helps strengthen and increase your lung function. It involves exercising in a swimming pool or wearing a compression vest that helps expand your chest.
Do I have to file a silicosis claim?
If you or someone you love has suffered from this condition and you believe it was caused by work activity, it’s important that you seek legal representation as soon as possible. Filing a silicosis claim requires gathering relevant evidence and establishing a link between the condition and your work environment. Since time may be of the essence, contacting a lawyer right away is vital if you want to file a claim.
Sources & references used in this article:
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Intake of medusahead by sheep: influence of supplements, silica and individual animal variation by JJ Villalba, EA Burritt – Invasive Plant Science and Management, 2015 – cambridge.org
The omega-3 fatty acid composition and cost analysis of fish oil supplements: fishing for the best deals by R Press – 2011 – kb.osu.edu
… L-tryptophan in dietary supplements by nano-LC using an O-[2-(methacryloyloxy)-ethylcarbamoyl]-10, 11-dihydroquinidine-silica hybrid monolithic column by D Xu, E Sánchez-López, Q Wang, Z Jiang… – Journal of …, 2020 – Elsevier
Authentication of Ginkgo biloba herbal dietary supplements using DNA barcoding by DP Little – Genome, 2014 – NRC Research Press