Lupus is a chronic disease that turns your immune system against your own body, often leaving sufferers with an array of symptoms.
While there are a number of causes, evidence for the link between exposure to silica dust and this rare but serious autoimmune illness, which affects more than 20,000 Australians, continues to grow.
As October is Lupus Awareness Month, it is an important time to highlight how common toxins in the air we breathe are increasingly seen as a cause of this debilitating condition.
Lupus can affect the heart, lungs and brain. The most common symptoms include; fatigue, fever, joint pain, stiffness, swelling, shortness of breath, chest pain, dry eyes, headaches and confusion.
But the effects on sufferers can vary significantly depending on which body system the disease attacks. This can make it difficult to diagnose early.
Silica is found in almost every type of natural rock, sand, clay and gravel in Australia, but is most potent and dangerous in man-made, artificial stone products, such as kitchen benchtops.
Anyone who works in a dusty workplace could be at risk of being exposed to silica dust. Those working in stone masonry, mining, construction, tunnel work and quarrying may also be at risk.
The link between exposure to silica dust and lung damage is well established however, the medical understanding of the effects of silica exposure and the development of autoimmune conditions continues to evolve and solidify.
Research recently conducted by Monash University, funded by WorkSafe, found people exposed to silica dust had an elevated level of antinuclear antibodies (37% of those with silicosis) suggesting significant potential for autoimmune disease.
The majority of clients we represent for claims involving silica-related autoimmune conditions are often secondary to an established lung disease such as silicosis.
However, we are beginning to see cases involving autoimmune conditions in clients with a history of silica exposure and the development of conditions such as lupus with no identifiable lung disease.
Get a medical examination.
If you have worked in a dusty workplace and are concerned you may be at risk, see your GP and inform them of your occupation and dust exposure levels.
Many people who work in dusty industries rarely draw a link between the autoimmune condition and the type of work they do for a living, especially as it can take years for people to develop silica-related illnesses.
Any person who works in industries with exposure to inhaled silica should get regular medical examinations and be monitored for signs and symptoms of lung disease and auto-immune conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and have a history of exposure to silica dust it is important to get legal advice to help you understand your rights and options.
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