Beryllium disease develops if beryllium dust or fumes have been inhaled. It is important to note that beryllium is a metal utilized in the manufacturing of various products including computers, cars, electrical equipment and even golf clubs. The metal is light, non-magnetic and a good conductor of electricity and heat.
There are 2 types of beryllium disease:
- Acute – this type is rare at the present since the current workplace safety rules prevent the massive release of beryllium into the air.
- Chronic – this type is linked with the inhalation of beryllium powder or fumes. The individual become sensitized to the metal before the condition progresses.
It is important to note that there are no health issues linked with exposure to solid beryllium but both solid and powder forms can trigger irritation if exposed to broken skin.
During the initial phases of the disease, there is limited or no symptoms at all. Once the condition progresses to the chronic form, inflammation occurs in the lungs since they are reacting to the foreign object.
The usual response of the lungs to beryllium exposure is to develop buildup of cells called as granulomas that cause scarring inside the lungs. The resulting scarring reduces the capability of the lungs to function. Over time, the inflammation continues and symptoms later arise including:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Joint pain
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
Management of beryllium disease
Remember that there is no available cure for the chronic form of beryllium disease, but the symptoms can be managed.
Individuals diagnosed with beryllium sensitization or the chronic form should avoid further exposure. Corticosteroids are frequently used which reduces the inflammation.
The commonly used corticosteroid is prednisone. Most doctors start with the dosage of 40 mg to be taken daily or every other day. Since almost everyone responds differently to this form of treatment, the doctor will monitor the response of the individual to the drug and make the necessary adjustments to the dosage.
Among individuals who do not seem to improve with steroids, the doctor might prescribe methotrexate.