Drywall is every construction worker’s best friend. This incredible substance makes up most of the walls, steel beam covers, and arches in public and residential areas. It’s incredibly cheap, easy to work with, and fire resistant, which is a significant plus for safety.
However, it does have one major flaw. Working with it can leave a huge mess. Sanding or drilling drywall generates a white, chalky substance called drywall dust. The powder can get everywhere, on your walls and carpets, and even stain your wooden countertops. Worse still, drywall can get in your lungs.
While not fatally toxic, the substance can still negatively impact your health. This is especially true if you already suffer from allergies or have a preexisting respiratory condition. Therefore, you should always wear protective gear when handling it. And if you’ve inhaled some, you may wonder: how long does drywall dust stay in your lungs?
Keep reading to discover a complete breakdown of all the side effects of inhaling drywall.
To understand drywall dust, you first must understand the material that generates it. Drywall is a type of material used in construction. It is composed of thick paper and a gypsum core. Gypsum is a natural mineral similar in appearance and texture to sand.
After they mine it from natural reserves, manufacturers mix it with calcium, paper pulp, starch, and an emulsifier. Lastly, they add water to the blend to form a kind of thick, goopy paste, which then goes on top of Manila paper to harden.
Apart from these basic ingredients, manufacturers also add other additives if they’re making specialized drywall. For example, fire-retardant gypsum contains fiber strands. They support the structural integrity of the drywall and make it last longer in the event of a fire. Soundproof drywall, on the other hand, has visco-synthetic polymers to help muffle any noise coming in.
But, regardless of type, all drywall is durable and very resistant to the elements. Consequently, it’s the material of choice for areas such as bathrooms, basements, or kitchens.
When working with drywall, you’ll inevitably get covered in dust. The gypsum mineral contains high amounts of water crystals. So, when drywall paste is in its hardened state, it has a very dry, chalky consistency. Therefore, any kind of drilling or sanding will make it flake.
On its own, the dust isn’t that a huge problem unless you’re sensitive to gypsum itself. But the additives may cause several health complications, particularly if you inhale a high concentration of the material.
Eye, Skin, and Throat Irritation
The mildest side-effect of inhaling drywall is some short-term irritation. You’ll likely get a runny nose, red and puffy eyes, and a coughing fit. The symptoms will last only a few minutes, just until your body naturally clears out the dust.
If you have asthma or any existing allergies, the mild irritation could turn into something much more serious. The symptoms will be very similar—runny nose, watery eyes, and a coughing fit.
However, the symptoms will persist longer than ten minutes. If you suffer from asthma, this could potentially trigger an attack. In that case, be sure to have an inhaler on hand to provide immediate relief.
Overall, most drywall manufacturers avoid using harmful substances when making this material. However, some lower-quality drywall may contain traces of mica. Mica is a powdered mineral substance that has a fine glittering sheen.
Usually, mica is fairly harmless when it’s in solid form. But, inhaling it can have some nasty side effects, like wheezing, shortness of breath, and uncontrollable coughing fits. If you inhale dust repeatedly over long periods of time, then you may even experience fibrosis or lung scarring. This results in your lungs working at a reduced capacity, making them vulnerable to nasty pathogens like pneumoconiosis.
Possibly the most serious side effect of drywall dust is silicosis. Silica is a toxic compound that’s found in a lot of construction materials, such as concrete. However, you can also find it in drywall. When inhaled, the compound causes severe respiratory problems, including difficulty breathing and permanent lung scarring.
But, the good news is that the condition will only set in after around 15‒20 days of continuous exposure. If you’ve only inhaled a bit of silica during your three-day home renovation, you should be fine. Nevertheless, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Immediately get the dust out of your lungs and contact your primary caregiver.
Overall, drywall dust will leave your lungs as soon as you inhale it. Your body has natural mechanisms that are supposed to get rid of foreign substances before they can do any serious damage. When dust particles enter your nostrils, they travel down to the bronchi, where they trigger a release of mucus.
Mucus is a viscous, sticky fluid that the body releases to trap the particles and expel them immediately. However, as good as this system is, it’s not full proof. If you’ve inhaled a significant amount of drywall dust, then the particles may travel way past your bronchi and embed themselves into lung tissue.
The body isn’t as efficient at clearing out things once they’ve already reached the lungs. Therefore, the particles can get lodged in there for days, and even weeks, thus causing permanent scarring.
To avoid this, you should always use protective gear. An N95 mask is acceptable, but you ideally want to have a drywall sanding respirator on hand. This is a special type of mask that offers protection against drywall dust at concentrations of up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit.
But, if you have already inhaled some drywall dust, don’t panic. Here are a few steps you can take to help your body expel the dust:
- Gargle salt water: salt is an irritant that triggers your body to produce more mucus.
- Vomit: puking also triggers the production of mucus as well as stimulates coughing.
- Use a humidifier: moisture could help loosen any particles trapped in your lungs.
So, how long does drywall stay in your lungs? The answer is that it depends. Overall, inhaling drywall dust shouldn’t cause major problems. The dry particles may irritate your nose and eyesa bit, but your body should have no issue clearing it out naturally.
But, if you’ve been repeatedly exposed to a lot of drywall dust, you may face more serious problems. In that case, consult with your doctor immediately to avoid any long-term damage to your lungs.