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Acute Beryllium Disease

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ABD usually occurs within months of exposure and resembles pneumonia or bronchitis, causing reddening or swelling of the lungs (Medfacts, National Jewish Medical & Research Center)

This form of beryllium disease may occur after short exposure to high concentrations (>1000 g/m 3 ) of beryllium dust or fumes. While incidence of acute beryllium disease (ABD) is rare today, these exposures can yet result from inadequate engineering controls, or equipment failure or malfunction in industry.  Exposure can irritate the lungs initiating a "chemical pneumonia". Historical reports of this disease are most common in workers who inhaled beryllium salts. Symptoms include coughing, burning and pain in the chest and shortness of breath. 

Acute Beryllium Disease usually has a quick onset and resembles pneumonia or bronchitis. It is now rare due to improved industrial protective measures designed to reduce beryllium exposure levels.
Acute beryllium disease (ABD) is caused by breathing in relatively high concentrations of beryllium in dust and metal fumes.

Acute Beryllium Disease May Take Several Forms

These symptoms appear on the exposed areas of the body, especially the face, neck, arms, and hands. Contact dermatitis usually improves a few weeks after exposure ends. Skin effects (lesions, ulcerations, wart-like bumps) also develop if beryllium penetrates into cuts or scratches. Beryllium particles must be removed from a wound if it is to heal properly.

Nasopharyngitis is an inflammation of the nose and throat. Symptoms include pain and swelling. Signs include bleeding of the nose. This condition clears up three to six weeks after exposure ends.

Tracheobronchitis is an inflammation of the windpipe and the airways beyond it. Symptoms are coughing and discomfort, and tightness of the chest. Recovery takes about one month.

Pneumonitis is an inflammation of the lungs confined to the walls of the air sacs. Pneumonitis is the most serious of the acute effects from beryllium exposure. It varies in severity and can result in death. But fatal cases are rare and recovery is usually complete in about six months. Symptoms are coughing, breathing difficulties, tightness of the chest, appetite and weight loss, and general weakness and tiredness.

According to the United States Beryllium Case Registry, established in 1952, about 17 percent of patients with acute disease developed chronic disease. It is unknown why chronic disease developed in persons who have had previous acute disease.