What is the treatment for inhaling drywall dust?

Q. Inhaled a substantial amount of sanded grout. Feeling shortness of breath,throat irritation. Can you help?

Answered by
Dr. Amol Kumar Wasudeorao Diwan
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.
This is a premium question & answer published on Jul 28, 2018 and last reviewed on: Jan 13, 2023

Hello doctor,

I have a question in regards to pulmonology and exposure to crystalline silica. I have done a ton of research on the internet regarding this subject and probably know as much as anyone can know based solely on internet information. So I am hoping someone with a more advanced knowledge of this toxin can give me some information. Here is my story:

  • I recently worked on a project involving sanded grout that contains high amounts of crystalline silica (40 -70%).
  • Unfortunately I inhaled a substantial amount without realizing the contents of grout and the effects of silica until further research after the project.
  • This was not an ordinary project. I am a photographer and this was a photo shoot at a studio.
  • We used it as powder and threw it in the air to capture the dust clouds in the photos.
  • When we purchased this, it did not even cross our minds how dangerous it was.
  • I poured 3, 25 lbs bags (totally 75 lbs) of polyblend sanded grout on the floor and stood at about 8 feet distance away from the model.
  • She (the model) grabbed handfuls of this stuff and tossed it towards the camera and in other different directions.
  • The grout was tossed in the air towards me throughout the shoot.
  • The air was quite cloudy in the room regardless of the size.
  • I tossed the grout in front of me several times with my bare hands as well.
  • But, I did not have problems of breathing or talking in the room.
  • The shoot lasted for 2 hours and we stayed to clean up for 2 hours afterwards (sweeping).
  • It was 75 pounds of sanded grout and 100 pounds of mortar in a 2100 square feet room with a little fan blowing and with little ventilation.
  • The dust got on everything and the air was thick with dust the entire time.
  • We had about 3-4 hours of exposure to this with no masks.
  • My ignorance has put a huge scare on me. I have been feeling shortness of breath, throat irritation and tightening of the chest.

I have been doing some thorough research myself, but the amount of silica inhaled to be considered high concentration (enough to cause lung cancer or silicosis years from now) is a little unclear.

  • Is the amount which I have mentioned, with no respiratory mask, dangerous?
  • I have read that these tiny particles can penetrate through the defenses of the lung and start scarring it in the long run.
  • I have also read that it is possible to have acute silicosis through a single lethal exposure to crystalline silica.
  • I know too much research is bad for a hypochondriac like me, but I would like some honest and thorough explanation of my chances on these long term lung issues.

I have attached the details of the polyblend sanded grout and its safety data sheet. After 3 weeks from the shoot, I have been experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath and dry cough. I have had chest x-rays, EKG's and visited urgent care doctors. Everything came back as normal, so I am not sure of what is going on. Instead I was diagnosed with sinus infection and acid reflux causing stomach pain as well. I have requested the doctor to do a PFT (Pulmonary Function Test).

I have not been able to eat or sleep properly and I have been worrying about this.



Welcome to icliniq.com.

  • I have surfed your links and understood your problem in detail. (attachments removed to protect patient identity)
  • After silica exposure you are suffering from what is called as acute silicosis.
  • Acute silicosis results from short term exposure to very large amounts of silica.
  • Acute silicosis follows massive exposure to dust in unregulated environments.
  • The symptoms are shortness of breath after exercising and a harsh, dry cough and troubled breathing.
  • And the patients might cough up blood as the disease progresses, along with trouble in sleeping, chest pain, hoarseness, and loss of appetite.
  • Silicosis patients are at high risk for tuberculosis (TB) if anytime suffered TB in lifetime.
  • The lungs become very inflamed and may be filled with fluid, causing severe shortness of breath and low blood oxygen levels.
  • Treatment of acute silicosis is symptomatic. There is no cure for silicosis.
  • Treatment is intended to relieve symptoms, treat complications, and prevent respiratory infections.
  • It includes careful monitoring for signs of TB.
  • Respiratory symptoms may be treated with bronchodilators (inhaler treatment ), increased fluid intake, steam inhalation and chest physiotherapy.
  • Patients with severe breathing difficulties may be given oxygen therapy.
  • Most important thing you should do is to prevent further exposure to free silica dust.
  • Also avoid other dusty environments especially areas of high concentrations of fumes and quit smoking (in case if you smoke).
  • You should get immunized against influenza (Flu) and pneumococcal pneumonia.
  • No specific therapy for silicosis cures or alters the course of the disease.
  • Corticosteroids are tried with some benefit.
  • Many patients who have latent tuberculosis infections (i.e, positive tuberculin skin test result without active disease) are treated with Isoniazid.
  • If the doctors diagnosed silicosis with active tuberculosis (i.e, Mycobacterium tuberculosis identified in smear or culture), then that patient is usually treated very aggressively with the appropriate TB drugs.
  • So plenty of fluid intake, vaccination and symptomatic treatment is advised to be continued.

Take care and get well soon.

Revert back to a pulmonologist online for further follow up --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/pulmonologist

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