Beryllium is an element not known to be used by either plants or animals. Beryllium dust is known to be toxic and it is corrosive to tissues. In certain individuals, a chronic, serious condition called berylliosis can occur which is life threatening. Beryllium is a carcinogen and long term exposure can lead to lung cancer. For people who have been exposed to beryllium, some can develop chronic beryllium disease or CBD, resulting in respiratory problems, night sweats, fatigue, dry cough and weight loss, anorexia, heart disease. CBD occurs when the immune system recognizes the small beryllium particles in the lungs and mounts an immune response. White blood cells collect around the beryllium particles forming granulomas which interfere with the functioning of the lungs. Therefore, it is important to minimize exposure to beryllium dust.
Berylliosis is a poisoning caused by exposure to beryllium or compounds of beryllium. If beryllium vapors are inhaled the lungs develop a very dangerous form of acute alveolitis.
The chronic forms of this disease may occur when the lungs are exposed to very low levels of beryllium dust. In chronic forms of berylliosis, there are formed skin and lungs granulomas, similar to those of sarcoidosis.
The prompt administration of corticosteroids may prevent lung fibrosis.