Beryllium-related disease are caused by dust or fumes inhaled by any individual exposed to beryllium.
Beryllium was being mined and used in electronic and chemical industries. Manufacture of fluorescent light bulbs used beryllium before. Nowadays, beryllium is more commonly utilized in the aerospace and beryllium-aluminum casting industries. So those working in these industries are more prone to developing beryllium-related disease. Studies show that 2 to 6% of those who come in contact with beryllium have high risk of getting this disease. There are two (2) pulmonary disorders related to inhalation of this toxic substance; they are acute beryllium disease and chronic beryllium disease (CBD). The disease is also called berylliosis.
Acute beryllium disease
Acute beryllium disease may develop in short-term and heavy exposure to the toxic element. This kind of disorder is manifested in many forms.
Contact dermatitis is characterized by the inflamed skin causing itchiness, redness, rashes, swelling and lesions on the face, neck, arms and hands. These are the areas that are exposed to beryllium. When the beryllium particulates enter the skin through open wounds, scratch or cut, ulcerations and wart-like bumps develop so in order for the wound to heal, it must be thoroughly washed to remove the beryllium. Contact dermatitis will affect the eyes causing watery and red eyes.
The nose and the throat can get inflamed from beryllium inhalation. These result to nasopharyngitis. Patient feels pain and swelling in the affected areas and bleeding of the nose, too. After three to six weeks, the condition usually clears up when patient avoids beryllium exposure.
The windpipe and the airways are affected by beryllium inhalation. Inflammation in these areas is known as tracheobronchitis. Cough and tight chest are the symptoms that adds to the discomfort of having this beryllium-related disease. Usually, in a month the patient can recover from tracheobronchitis.
Inflammation of the lung tissue or the air sacs is a lung disease called pneumonitis. It is the most serious acute effect of beryllium inhalation and exposure. This can be mild to severe that can cause death when not diagnosed immediately. Although nowadays, fatal effects from pneumonitis is rare and patient can recover completely in just six (6) months. Coughing, breathing difficulty, tightening of the chest, weight and appetite loss and general fatigue are the symptoms of pneumonitis.
Records from the United States Beryllium Case Registry showed that about 17% of patients with acute beryllium disease develop in the long run chronic beryllium disease or CBD but researches are still inadequate to point out why this happens.
Chronic beryllium disease
Chronic beryllium disease results to lung scarring. This developed from beryllium sensitization and prolonged exposure to beryllium fumes and dust by workers in different industries using beryllium. A beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT) is conducted to determine the immune system’s reaction to beryllium. This is further confirmed by the doctor through the patient’s exposure history to beryllium, chest x-rays, Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT), High Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT), Bronchoscopy, induced sputum (IS) tests and lung biopsy.