Asbestosis (as-bes-TOE-sis) is a chronic respiratory disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers into the lungs. It is usually caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, but can also occur after a single exposure, either long-term or short-term.
Asbestosis is often something that occurs slowly over time and patients may not notice any symptoms for years or decades. Diagnosis may be difficult since other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis and tuberculosis can share similar symptoms with asbestosis.
Symptoms of asbestosis:
* Chronic cough
* Dribbling at the back of the throat after eating or drinking
* Shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
* Coughing up mucus that looks like dust and/or food
* A constricted or "choked" cough accompanied by wheezing that worsens on exertion, exertion brings further coughing (the cough becomes a hacking cough) and after three or four attacks of coughing, the patient is forced to sit down until the spasm is over. Later, they may walk with a limp or hobble. Pain in the ribs can develop when breathing out.
When to see a doctor?
If you or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos, the best time to see a doctor is right away.
Asbestosis symptoms may develop suddenly or slowly over time.
In some cases, asbestosis can lead to serious health problems such as breathing difficulty, lung cancer, heart problems and death.
When to seek medical advice:
* The patient is a smoker with chronic respiratory symptoms that don't improve with medication.
* There is blood in the sputum.
* A new onset of hemoptysis (coughing up of blood).
Causes of asbestosis:
* Asbestos: An inhalation hazard in mining, milling and processing of asbestos that can be breathed into the lungs. Long-term exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing asbestosis.
* Cigarette smoke: The most common cause of asbestosis among smokers.
* Chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which may result from a variety of lung disorders such as asthma, childhood bronchiolitis obliterans, mycoplasma and sarcoidosis. These diseases cause irritation that allows asbestos fibers to penetrate the lung tissue and damage it more easily.
An asbestosis diagnosis can occur after ten years or longer from first exposure to asbestos fibers at work or home.
Risk factors of asbestosis:
2. Exposure to asbestos for a long time
3. Exposure to asbestos and cigarette smoke
4. If a person has been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or emphysema, asbestosis may develop.
5. A family history of asbestosis
6. Being an African American
7. Living in an area where there is a high concentration of asbestos fibers in the air; for instance, near mining operations or factories that mine or process asbestos
8. If a person inhales an unusually high number of heavy fibers.
One to two decades after initial exposure to asbestos, patients with asbestosis can experience:
* Lung cancer
* Pleural plaques (small lumps of tissue formed in the pleura, or lining of the lungs that can lead to breathing problems)
* Lung scarring caused by fibrotic tissue developing in the lungs
* Pulmonary hypertension (the right side of the heart is under greater pressure than normal and blood flow through the heart is slowed)
Symptoms similar to asbestosis:
1. Patients with chronic bronchitis may have a chronic cough that lasts more than three weeks, which becomes worse during periods of physical exertion.
2. Emphysema is a chronic disease of the lung in which the air sacs, or alveoli, become enlarged. These air sacs are responsible for absorbing oxygen from the lungs and into the bloodstream. In emphysema patients, these air sacs become damaged and overinflated and are stretched thin. When a patient takes a breath, they have to take in very large amounts of air to replace what their lungs cannot absorb.
3. Silicosis is caused by prolonged exposure to crystalline silica (sand) dusts at work or home, which damages the lungs and makes it hard for people to breathe.
Who gets asbestosis?
Asbestosis is often associated with construction, mining, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries. Since asbestos was commonly used to insulate buildings and products, such as cars and carpets in the past, people who worked in these industries for long periods of time have an increased risk of developing asbestosis. People who live in areas with high concentrations of asbestos may also be at an increased risk of developing this condition. For example, there is a higher incidence of residents in the Northern Territory (Australia) being diagnosed with asbestosis than those from other parts of Australia.
* Chest X-ray.
* PFTs (pulmonary function testing): This can be done by having the patient walk through a tunnel with a pressure sensor attached to his or her chest. A machine will read the results and provide an average for each category of PFTs: vital capacity (how much air you can take in and out in one breath), forced expiratory volume into one second (how much air you can take in and out over a long period of time) and peak expiratory flow rate (the highest measurement possible during the test).
* Nonsurgical: This type of treatment is effective for patients with asbestosis that doesn't cause any breathing problems. An anti-asbestos medication can be taken when symptoms first appear. Other treatments include:
* Drugs that reduce the number of inflammatory responses in the body (such as corticosteroids)
* Breathing exercises to help with lung function and lung health.
* Exercise and activity such as walking should help strengthen the muscles around the lungs and increase their capacity to hold air. However, physical activity should be kept to a minimum in patients with emphysema.
* The patient should limit exposure to cigarette smoke and the environment, along with reducing the amount of air they take in when smoking.
* Smoking cessation is beneficial in relieving symptoms and promoting longer life expectancy. If a patient is unable to quit smoking on their own, they should consider enrolling in a tobacco cessation program.
A surgery known as pleurectomy may be used to remove excess fibrotic tissue that forms around the lungs as a result of chronic inflammation and irritation.
Many precautions can reduce the risk of asbestosis, including:
* Avoiding smoking
* Limit the amount of air one takes in when breathing
* If a patient is exposed to asbestos, they should wear protective equipment such as respirators and masks.
* Wearing a surgical mask is another preventive measure. This piece of clothing will protect the wearer from inhaling any airborne fibers, causing respiratory diseases. Machines that filter air before it is breathed are also useful for preventing fiber exposure (such as air cleaners).
* Equipment that generates dust or dirt should have a full decontamination system, so the particles in the air will be captured before entering the lungs.
* Asbestos removal procedures should involve using a full-face mask and coveralls to prevent any fibers from reaching the lungs and bloodstream.
In addition, if a patient is undergoing an operation that involves asbestos, it's helpful to discuss this with their doctor. The physician can create a plan to manage any risks of exposure to contaminants during surgery. Patients with asbestosis need regular checkups with their doctors to monitor their condition and detect any changes that may require additional treatment.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lawyers:
If you or a loved one has developed an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, asbestos exposure or asbestosis, you should contact an experienced asbestos lawyer to learn more about your legal rights and options, and the steps they can take on your behalf. The lawyers at Goudreau Law Firm have extensive experience representing clients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Call today for a free consultation at (855) 594-9044.