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Chronic Beryllium Disease

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Chronic beryllium disease develops after months or years of exposure to beryllium. The period between first exposure and appearance of the disease is 10 to 15 years. The disease may develop while the individual is still exposed to beryllium or it may occur up to 25 years after the last exposure.

What is Chronic Beryllium Disease?

Chronic Beryllium Disease is an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of beryllium dust and fumes. Chronic beryllium disease is an inflammation in the lungs that can occur when a person is exposed to beryllium fumes, dusts or powder, and subsequently demonstrates an allergic reaction to beryllium. CBD is an occupational disease that may occur in the manufacture of metallic beryllium, beryllium oxide ceramic, or alloys containing beryllium. It was first identified more than 50 years ago.

Chronic beryllium disease primarily affects the lungs. But it may also affect other organs because the blood transports beryllium throughout the body. The mechanism of beryllium disease is not absolutely known. Most likely, once in the body, beryllium combines with certain proteins, causing the release of toxic substances.

Symptoms of chronic beryllium disease are breathing difficulties, coughing, chest pain, and general weakness. Signs include enlargement of the liver, spleen and right heart, and kidney stones. The course of chronic beryllium disease varies. Some affected people may have few or no symptoms at all for many years followed by eventual deterioration.

Some individuals develop an allergy to beryllium upon exposure and are, therefore, more likely to develop CBD. Some affected people may have few or no symptoms at all for many years followed by eventual deterioration. Some people who are diagnosed with CBD do not develop clinical symptoms at all. In others, the disease can lead to clinical symptoms that include scarring and damage of lung tissue, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and/or coughing. Extreme cases of CBD can cause disability or death. The course of the disease can range from a few years to decades.

Some of the symptoms of Chronic Beryllium Disease are cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, and night sweats. The use of steroids is the primary way to control the progression of this disease. Supplemental oxygen may be needed for some individuals. A lung transplant may be the last alternative for some.

There is a special test that can be done to see if you are sensitized to beryllium. This test is called a beryllium lymphocyte proliferation transformation test. It is typically a blood test, but it can also be done through a lung washing. X-rays may be helpful to see if there is any scarring of the lungs caused by the inhalation of beryllium dust or fumes. A special type of scarring of the lungs called granuloma may be found in lung biopsy tissue. Pulmonary function tests can show if there are abnormalities in the breathing functions of the lungs. Sometimes beryllium disease is misdiagnosed as sarcoidosis, but a lymphocyte transformation test and a history of exposure to beryllium can differentiate these diseases.

Chronic beryllium disease can develop as long as 30 years after a person was last exposed to beryllium, though the average latency period is about 8 -10 years. In some people, the disease progresses slowly, but in others it may cause respiratory problems much more rapidly.

Warning! - The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that beryllium is a human carcinogen. Lung cancer may also be caused by beryllium exposure.