Asbestosis Disease Information and FAQ
Asbestosis is a serious illness caused by long-term exposure to asbestos, typically in the workplace. If you or a loved one is experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, you may be surprised by an asbestosis diagnosis. This disease usually develops decades after exposure. Although asbestos exposure is associated with a variety of cancers, asbestosis is not a cancer.
What Causes Asbestosis?
Asbestosis is caused by exposure to harmful asbestos fibers. Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals, characterized by thin, fibrous crystals which can easily be inhaled. When inhaled, these crystals can become lodged in the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation. Over time, some people exposed to asbestos fibers will develop fibrous masses in the lungs and significant loss of lung capacity.
Asbestosis symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, prolonged hoarseness, and unexplained weight loss. However, some patients will report no symptoms until a physical examination reveals changes in breath sounds. Because the symptoms of asbestosis are similar to those of lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, lung x-rays, CT-scans, and a lung biopsy may be required in order to rule out other conditions.
Living with Asbestosis
Asbestosis causes diminished lung capacity, making the activities of daily life a struggle. Although not by itself a terminal illness, asbestosis is associated with a greater risk of lung cancer, particularly for smokers. Asbestosis victims may suffer complications from common respiratory illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia.
Asbestosis treatment is designed to make patients more comfortable, most often through the use of inhalers and supplemental oxygen. In some cases, doctors may perform a thoracentesis, an invasive procedure in which a thin, hollow needle is inserted in the back of the chest, in order to draw off fluid and reduce pressure on the lungs. The only cure for asbestosis is a complete lung transplant. Because of the risks associated with transplant surgery and the scarcity of donor organs, this is generally considered a last resort.
Asbestosis can cause permanent damage to the lungs, which can in some cases be terminal. Asbestosis is associated with lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, decreased function of the right ventricle of the heart, and other serious conditions. Early detection and avoidance of infection can both prolong and improve quality of life.
Asbestosis is entirely a byproduct of long-term exposure to toxic asbestos fibers. Since the early 20th century, employers and asbestos product manufacturers have known that inhaling asbestos leads to serious lung complications. Unfortunately, little or no measures were taken to protect employees and the general public from the risks of airborne asbestos. Hard working members of the ship building, construction, automotive, and manufacturing industries were particularly placed at risk.