What Effects Does Dust Have on the Lungs?



What happens to our bodies when we inhale dust?

A multitude of defensive systems in various parts of the respiratory tract safeguard the lungs.

A dusty house or Particles floating in the air or enter the nose when a person breathes in, but not all of them reach the lungs. The nose is a powerful filter. Most big particles are stopped in it until they are mechanically eliminated by sneezing or blowing the nose.

Some of the smaller particles make it to the windpipe and the dividing air tubes that lead to the lungs via passing through the nose.

Bronchi and bronchioles are the names for these passages. These airways are all coated by cells. Most of the dust particles are caught in the mucus they produce. The mucus is moved upward and out into the throat by tiny hairs called cilia that coat the walls of the air passages, where it is either coughed up and spat out or ingested.

Any dust particles that escaped the defences in the nose and airways reach the small air sacs (alveoli) in the inner region of the lungs. The body absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide through the air sacs, which are highly vital.

Special cells called macrophages fight dust that reaches the sacs and the bottom region of the airways where there are no cilia. These are critical for the lungs’ protection. The air sacs are kept clean by them. The particles are virtually swallowed by macrophages. The macrophages then reach the part of the airways covered by cilia, where the wavelike motions of the cilia move the dust-carrying macrophages to the throat, where they are spat out or swallowed, in an unknown way.

Aside from macrophages, the lungs have another dust-removal system. The lungs can produce certain proteins in response to the presence of germ-bearing particles. To neutralise particles, these proteins bind to them.

Dusts are microscopic solid particles that are dispersed or suspended in the atmosphere. Depending on the source of the dust, the particles are “inorganic” or “organic.” Grinding metals or minerals such as rock or soil can produce inorganic dust. Silica, asbestos, and coal are examples of inorganic dusts.

Plants and animals produce organic dust. Dust created by handling grain is an example of organic dust. A wide range of substances can be found in these dusts. Organic dusts may contain fungi or microbes, as well as the toxic substances released by microbes, in addition to the vegetable or animal component. Histoplasmosis, psittacosis, and Q Fever, for example, are diseases that can be contracted by inhaling organic matter infected with specific microorganisms.

Organic chemicals can also cause dust (e.g., dyes, pesticides). However, only dust particles that cause fibrosis or allergic reactions in the lungs are considered in this OSH Answers document. Chemical dusts that cause other acute toxic effects, as well as long-term effects such as cancer, are not included.

What are the lungs’ responses to dust?

The way the respiratory system reacts to inhaled particles is heavily influenced by where the particle lands. For example, irritating dust that settles in the nose might cause rhinitis, a mucous membrane irritation. Inflammation of the trachea (tracheitis) or bronchi (bronchitis) may occur if the particle attacks the larger air passages.

The deeper portions of the lungs are where the most profound responses take place.

Particles that do not pass through the nose or throat tend to collect in the sacs or near the end of the airways. However, if there is a lot of dust, the macrophage system may fail. The lungs are injured when dust particles and dust-containing macrophages collect in the lung tissues.

The amount of dust and the types of particles involved have an impact on the severity of the lung injury. When macrophages swallow silica particles, for example, they die and release toxic substances. Fibrous or scar tissue forms as a result of these chemicals. This tissue is the body’s natural means of self-repair. However, crystalline silica can cause so much fibrous tissue and scarring that lung function might be compromised. Fibrosis is the medical term describing the production of fibrous tissue and scarring. Fibogenic particles are those that produce fibrosis or scarring. The illness is known as silicosis when crystalline silica causes fibrosis.

What elements have an impact on dust’s effects?

The impact of inhaled particles are influenced by a number of circumstances. Some of the properties of the particles themselves are among them. The size of a particle is usually the most important factor in determining where it will end up in the respiratory tract. Because some substances, when in particle form, can destroy the cilia that the lungs use to remove particles, chemical composition is important. Smoking may impair the lungs’ ability to clear themselves.

The effects of dust can also be influenced by the characteristics of the person inhaling particles. Smoking and breathing rates are two of the most important factors. The amount of dust that settles in the lungs increases with the length of time the breath is held and the depth of the breath. It’s also important to know whether you’re breathing through your nose or mouth.