Silicosis Symptoms

Silicosis Symptoms

The effects of silicosis can be severe and ultimately fatal. The following symptoms characterize this devastating disease, which is sometimes misdiagnosed as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia or pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs):

  • Chest pain
  • Cough, typically dry and persistent and sometimes severe
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin)
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Gradual dark, shallow rifts in nails that may eventually lead to cracks as protein fibers within nail beds are destroyed 
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Right ventricle heart disease (cor pulmonale)
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)

Silicosis is an irreversible condition and has no cure, although there are treatment options available to help ease symptoms and related complications. Unfortunately, access to screening and medical facilities is limited or non-existent in the rural areas in which many of the affected miners live.

Silicosis patients are also three times more likely to develop TB, which is sometimes referred to as silicotuberculosis, and they are more prone to suffer from lung infections, respiratory failure and progressive massive fibrosis (severe scarring and stiffening of the lung). According to the Department of Health’s Tuberculosis Strategic Plan for South Africa 2007 to 2011, the gold mining industry may have the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the world, with prevalence ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 per 100,000 miners per year. Nationally, the prevalence of tuberculosis was 920 per 100,000 in 2008. The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers an incidence of 250 per 100,000 per year to be a “health emergency.”