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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury


Silicosis is a long-term lung disease. It's caused by breathing in silica dust, usually over many years.

Accelerated silicosis is when the disease comes on more quickly. This happens when someone's exposed to large amounts of silica dust over a shorter time.

There is no cure for this disease. Preventing exposure to silica dust is the most important way to prevent it happening.

Silica is in some types of stone, rock, sand and clay. People who work with these substances can inhale fine silica particles into their lungs. Their immune system responds to these particles by causing swelling and inflammation.

Over time, these areas of swelling and inflammation harden with scar tissue. This makes the lungs stiff and stops them functioning properly.

Symptoms of silicosis

Silicosis symptoms usually get worse over time. The main symptoms of silicosis are:

In more severe disease, the scar tissue in the lungs puts pressure on the heart and can lead to a type of heart failure.

Risk factors for silicosis

People who work in the following industries are particularly at risk of silicosis:

If you work in these areas and have any of the symptoms of silicosis, see your GP to talk about your concerns.

Preventing silicosis

Reducing exposure to silica dust is the most important way to prevent silicosis. Your workplace should take the following steps:

See this information from WorkSafe about reducing risk in the engineered stone benchtop industry.

Diagnosing silicosis

You doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and how you could have been exposed.

Tests for silicosis can involve:

Treating silicosis

There is no cure for silicosis. The treatment is aimed at managing your symptoms and checking to see if the condition is getting worse. The most important step is to stop any further exposure to silica dust.

Self-care for silicosis

It's important to protect your lungs from any further damage. To do this:

Getting help for Silicosis

Your GP will support you. You'll also see a respiratory specialist team for diagnosis and follow up.

You may want to consider seeing a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. They will give you advice about managing daily activities with your symptoms.

If you have to stop work, you can talk to your GP or Work and Income (WINZ) about benefits you're eligible for. You may be able to get help to get into work that will not make your condition worse. You may also be eligible for ACC support.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.


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Review key: HISIL-784984