Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to the mineral asbestos cancer. Chronic inflammation of lung tissue is the hallmark of asbestosis, which is significantly more common among people who have worked with asbestos in years past when there were few or no safety precautions to limit workers’ exposure to this toxic mineral.
Signs and Symptoms of Asbestosis
People who have worked with asbestos, those who have been exposed to asbestos in a non-work setting, and the family members of such individuals should be aware of the signs and symptoms of asbestosis. These include:
- the slow onset of shortness of breath
- dry-sounding crackles when breathing in
- clubbing of the fingers
- respiratory failure (in advanced cases)
Asbestos is the cause of several other serious diseases in addition to asbestosis, such as lung cancer, cancer in other organs, and mesothelioma cancer, a cancer of chest-cavity tissue. The signs and symptoms of these diseases are different from those of asbestosis.
What Exactly Is Asbestosis?
When a person inhales asbestos fibers, those fibers may become lodged in the lungs, in the lungs’ air sacs (the alveoli). Because the asbestos fibers are recognized by the body as a foreign substance, the body has an immune reaction to them, producing inflammation. The inflammation signals the body’s attempt to destroy the invaders, but in the process, fibrous (scar) tissue is laid down in the lungs (this is known as interstitial fibrosis).
The fibrosis makes the walls of the air sacs thicker, which reduces their functioning. Shortness of breath is the final result. In advanced cases of asbestosis, the reduced lung function can induce “cor pulmonale,” or right-side heart failure.
How Might I Have Gotten Asbestosis?
People who worked in asbestos mines, or in the processing of asbestos, or with products that contain asbestos (and there are thousands of asbestos products) are at risk of developing asbestosis. The risk was greatest in the period from the 1930s to the 1980s, but even today, as older homes are renovated, asbestos-containing building materials may provide the toxic exposure that causes asbestosis.
Even people who never worked with asbestos have developed asbestosis — sometimes from asbestos ceiling or floor tiles in their place of employment, or when their spouses came home from an asbestos-related job with asbestos fibers clinging to his clothing and shoes. In most cases, the asbestosis makes itself known about five to ten years after the asbestos exposure.
What Can I Do about My Asbestosis?
There is no cure for asbestosis, only treatment such as:
- Oxygen therapy
- Respiratory physiotherapy
- Medication to thin out secretions from the lungs
If you or your family member has been diagnosed with asbestosis, it’s good to learn all that you can about both your medical condition and your rights and options.
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