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Learn more about the risks and symptoms of workplace-related lung irritation. With proper safety measures, you can better offer your medical practice, company, or staff protection from occupational idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Ensuring that staff are provided with high quality PPE is an essential form of protection. Visit the MediDent Supplies PPE Shop for a selection of medical masks or NIOSH and FDA-approved respirator masks.

For information about work-related asthma, see Limiting the Risk of Work-Related Asthma.

What is work-related idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a form of lung disease that causes lung scarring and stiffness, making it difficult to breathe. PF has the potential to prevent your body from getting adequate oxygen. It can lead to serious complications. There are over 200 different types of PF. The most common type is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which has no known cause. When IPF is contracted due to work conditions, it is considered work-related or occupational idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

For more information, see the American Lung Association’s page on PF here.

Approximately 50,000 cases of IPF are diagnosed each year. It is currently believed that IPF is triggered by a combination of genetics and exposure to harmful irritants. Irritants may include inhaled chemicals, smoking, and lung infections. Cigarette smoking also increases the risk of developing IPF. Once lung damage occurs, an abnormal healing process leads to scarring.

Most people begin to notice IPF symptoms between the ages of 50 and 70. A disproportionate number of IPF patients dental and other medical professionals. This is likely due to breathing hazards experienced in the workplace. For more information, see the CDC’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) Among Dental Personnel.

Symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

It is common to have IPF for some time without noticing any symptoms. Typically, the first symptom that develops is shortness of breath or wheezing. Other symptoms can include:

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IPF in the dental and medical fields

Exposure to hazardous materials is a main contributor to the development of IPF. Common examples are asbestos fibers, silica, grain dust, certain gases, or radiation.

A surprisingly high percentage of dental professionals contract IPF. Over a 17-year period, a study was conducted at a Virginia specialty dental clinic. The number of dental professionals treated for IPF was 29 times higher than expected. This is likely due to increased exposure to bacteria, viruses, chemicals, dust, and radiation present in dental and other medical settings.

According to the CDC:

“Clusters of IPF cases reinforces the need to better understand breathing exposures that occur while working in dental clinics and laboratories and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.”

Medical staff wearing mask to prevent pathogen spread.

Protection from occupational idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Use of properly fitting, air-filtering PPE is an essential mode of prevention for the development of occupational idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

If you already have PF or IPF, remember that masks are safe for people with lung disease and will help protect you from harm. FDA-approved masks are tested to ensure that they do not restrict your breathing.

Which mask is right for my workplace?

Surgical masks

Surgical masks help reduce particles expelled by the wearer into the environment (plus fluid resistance). They can be used during surgery and other medical procedures to help protect patients, or when fluid resistance may be required.

Shop surgical masks here.

N95 Respirators

N95 Respirators help reduce particles inhaled by the wearer. They can be used for respiratory protection when the wearer might be exposed to particulate hazards.

Shop NIOSH-Approved N95 respirators here.

Surgical N95 Respirators

Surgical N95 Respirators help reduce particles both inhaled and expelled by the wearer (plus fluid resistance). They are intended to be used during surgery and other tasks during which the wearer requires respiratory protection and expelled particulates must be contained or fluid resistance is required.

Browse NIOSH-Approved Surgical N95 Particulate Filtering Respirators.

For a more detailed guide to masks and respirators in the workplace, see OSHA’s Fact Sheet detailing the difference between respirators and surgical masks.

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Workers’ rights

If you work in the United States, your employer has legal obligations to help protect you from hazards in the workplace. Under OSHA guidelines, your employer is responsible for:

Employers are also required to keep a material safety data sheet for each hazardous material used in the workplace. Workers have a legal right to see and copy such documents. If unsafe working conditions are suspected, workers can call OSHA at 800-321-OSHA (800-321-6742) and ask for an on-site inspection.

Help prevent work-related IPF before it becomes a problem in your workplace. Visit MediDent Supplies for PPE and sanitization supplies to keep your workplace safe.

More resources

American Dental Association (ADA)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Dentistry

Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation

National Dental Assistant Association

American Dental Hygienists’ Association