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Lung diseases

8 months exposed to fiberglass dust.

09/03/2008

Question:

I`ve been exposed to fiberglass dust from molds and composite castings for 8 months and I did not wear any masks. Now I do wear them. I started feeling a shortness of breath three months ago and the doctor prescribed me an inhaler (puffer) salbutamol. I`d like to know if fiberglass dust can cause asthma and if this respiratory problem is caused by fiberglass dust, can my lungs clear this dust out expelling it? if so, how long would it take to be gone? I also would like to know if asthmatics can have vapor baths twice per week or can it make it worse? is there any way to help the lungs expel this fiberglass dust? Thank you.

Answer:

Fiberglass is made of glass wool which is in turn made of silica. There is on-going debate about whether it is carcinogenic (meaning whether it can cause lung cancer) but most authorities believe that in the doses that are encountered in regular work environments that it probably does not cause lung cancer. It is an irritant and can cause irritation to the nose and throat when the particles are inhaled. This irritation can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms in persons who already have asthma and can cause cough in persons without asthma. Although fiberglass is made of silica, the fibers of fiberglass are generally large enough that they are cleared from the lungs without causing the lung disease silicosis. Usually the fibers clear from the lung within a few weeks. As far as vapor treatments, some asthmatics are sensitive to chemicals that can be in vapors (such as chlorine, etc.). Also, some of the fluids that are used to create vapors can sometimes have microorganisms living in them that can worsen asthma when breathed by asthmatics. If a patient with asthma finds that they have cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath after taking vapor baths, then the vapor baths should be discontinued.

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Response by:

James N Allen, Jr, MD James N Allen, Jr, MD
Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University