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Silicosis: Treatment, Cost and Side Effects

What is the Silicosis? How is the Silicosis treatment done? Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?) Who is not eligible for the treatment? Are there any side effects? What are the post-treatment guidelines? How long does it take to recover? What is the price of the treatment in India? Are the results of the treatment permanent? What are the alternatives to the treatment?

What is the Silicosis?

Silicosis is a type of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of the tiny silica dust particles. As a result of silica inhalation, the lung gets inflamed and scarred. Excessive scarring and stiffening of the lungs can lead to a condition called progressive massive fibrosis. The disease is often characterized by shortness of breath, cough, fever, weight loss and chest pain.

The effect of silicon dust particles on workers can be varied for which the disease can be categorized into three types. Acute silicosis is characterized by weight loss and fatigue and is generally occur within a few weeks or years of exposure to inhaled silica. As a result of silica inhalation, the lungs get filled with fluid, causing shortness of breath and low oxygen level in the blood. This is also known as silicoproteinosis. Chronic silicosis occurs 10 to 20 years or from long-term exposure and affects the upper portion of lungs and chest lymph nodes, thereby causing excessive scarring. Accelerated silicosis occurs 10 years or a shorter period of time after exposure. Patients having this type of silicosis are at a greater risk of developing complications.

Silicosis is caused by exposure to crystalline silica, which can occur from chipping, cutting, drilling or grinding soil, sand granite or minerals. You are at a risk of developing silicosis if you work in-mining, construction work, tunnel work, masonry, sand blasting, glass manufacturing, ceramics work, steel industry work, quarrying and stone cutting.

How is the Silicosis treatment done?

As a silicosis develops on exposure to silicone, your doctor might do a physical examination and ask you about occupation. Your doctor will probably do a chest x-ray to examine the condition of your lung and check for any scarring. Other tests like breathing tests, high resolution CT scan, bronchoscopy and biopsy might also be advised by your doctor. Additional test may include mucus (sputum) evaluation to assess other conditions of the lungs such as tuberculosis (TB).

Silicosis has no cure. Therefore, a combination of treatment method is used to prevent and manage the symptoms of the disease. Based on your diagnosis which will give a true evaluation of your lungs, your doctor will decide on the treatment. You may need oxygen support if you have too much trouble breathing. Your doctor might give steroids which have to be inhaled to prevent sputum production. Sometimes, bronchodilators are used to relax the air tubes. Antibiotics are also given to treat respiratory infections. All this method helps in treating the symptoms.

If silicosis does not get better with the above mentioned treatment, then a multidisciplinary approach is needed. You may need to get away from the area of exposure to silicon. Moreover, people suffering from severe or acute silicosis may need to have a lung transplant. Whatever method you chose, remember to consult a doctor.

Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?)

Any person who works in a profession that exposes them to silicone dust should get regular health checkups and be monitored for signs and symptoms of lung disease by a doctor. Therefore, if you experience cough, phlegm or shortness of breath or fatigue and chest pain, then you should go to a doctor. The symptoms generally appear within weeks to even years and generally worsen over time.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

A person having similar symptoms of like chest pain, cough, fever and shortness of breath but diagnosed with tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer is not eligible for silicosis treatment.

Are there any side effects?

Treatments like inhaled steroids and oxygen support might have some side effects like adverse reaction to a medication and limitation on movement due to an oxygen mask. Taking antibiotics may also lead to side effects like vomiting, severe watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps, allergic reactions (shortness of breath, hives, swelling of lips, face and tongue, fainting), rash, vaginal itching or discharge and white patches on the tongues. If you are taking bronchodilators, then you may experience nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, palpitations, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), headaches and problem of sleeping like insomnia. Moreover, if you undergo lung transplantation, then you suffer long-term consequence of immunosuppression (opportunistic infections).

If you are working in any occupation that exposes you to silica dust particles, then you are at a risk of developing silicosis. Severe silicosis may lead to problems like tuberculosis, lung cancer and bronchitis.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

People suffering from silicosis has to prevent further worsening of the disease by quitting smoking and limiting exposure to silica dust particles, both of which aggravate silicosis. You should also try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by managing your diet and exercising regularly and also go for regular health checkups.

In recent years, early detection and proper treatment are resulting in better survival and recovery rate for silicosis. By following a few simple steps you will be able to lead a better life with silicosis. Measures like getting yearly vaccinations, such as pneumococcal and influenza, being careful and observant of symptoms of tuberculosis or other infection from silicosis, avoiding further exposure to silica, educating yourself about the disease, managing any flare-ups or symptoms of the disease and stop smoking should be followed diligently to avoid future complications.

How long does it take to recover?

There is no definite cure for silicosis and can only be prevented and managed by you. Therefore. recovery usually takes lifelong but disppearence of symptoms takes regular monitoring and taking of medications.

What is the price of the treatment in India?

The price range for silicosis treatment can range between Rs.1000 to Rs.10,00,000. If you require only inhaled steroids, bronchodilators and oxygen support, you cost may range between Rs.1000 to Rs.1,00,000. However, if you require lung transplant, they your cost can go up to Rs.10,00,000.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

The result of silicosis treatment is not permanent as there is no cure the disease. Severe or acute silicosis may lead to health cpmplications like bronchitis, lung cancer and tuberculosis.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

Silicosis can also be treated with other methods like inhalation of powdered aluminium, d-penicillamine, polyvynil-pyridine-N-oxide, corticosteroid therapy, chinese herbal kombucha and the herbal extract tetrandrine.

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