Berylliosis is a lung disease due to beryllium exposure. Beryllium is a metal found in rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust. It is used in certain industries.
The two types of berylliosis are:
- Acute—caused by brief exposure
- Chronic—caused by long-term exposure
Berylliosis is caused by:
- Inhaling beryllium dust or fumes
- Other exposure—such as through an open skin wound
- A sensitivity to beryllium
The risk of berylliosis is highest in those who work near beryllium. Beryllium is used to make many items, including:
- Fiber optics
Symptoms of acute berylliosis start quickly. With the chronic type, symptoms come on slowly. Symptoms may be:
- Coughing, possibly with blood
- Chest pain
- Problems breathing
- Weight loss
- Feeling very tired
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Chronic berylliosis leads to scarring of the lungs. It also leads to inflamed masses in the lungs called granulomas. People with severe symptoms may go on to have heart failure.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Diagnosis is based on:
- A blood test called BeLPT (beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test)—shows sensitivity to beryllium
- Lung biopsy—a sample of lung tissue is taken and tested for granulomas
Other tests may include:
The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation and damage to the lungs. The first step is to avoid further exposure to beryllium.
Berylliosis is treated with corticosteroids. This medicine helps ease lung inflammation.
Most people recover from acute berylliosis if it is treated quickly. It can be deadly if not treated right away.
In chronic berylliosis, medicine helps manage symptoms. But it cannot reverse scarring in the lungs.
The best way to lower the risk is to avoid beryllium. If that is not possible, exposure may be lowered by:
- Using protective clothing, respirators, and good ventilation]
- Not eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where beryllium is used
- Showering after working with beryllium
- Beryllium. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website. Available at: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/beryllium.html.
- Berylliosis. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/berylliosis.
- Beryllium. US Department of Labor—Occupational Safety and Health Administration website. Available at: https://www.osha.gov/beryllium.
- Chronic beryllium disease. National Jewish Health website. Available at: https://www.nationaljewish.org/conditions/beryllium-disease.
- Chronic beryllium disease. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/chronic-beryllium-disease.
- Fontenot AP. Immunologic effects of beryllium exposure. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018;15(Suppl 2):S81-S85.
- Interstitial lung disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/interstitial-lung-disease.
- David L. Horn, MD, FACP
(C) Copyright 2022 EBSCO Information Services
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