We have focused a lot in recent postings on the two main kinds of cancer that asbestos exposure can cause: mesothelioma and lung cancer. Today we will look at a noncancerous disease caused by breathing in asbestos fibers – an irreversible condition that can be disabling and even lead to death: asbestosis.
Nature of Asbestosis
Asbestosis is a chronic illness in which healthy lung tissue has responded to the inhalation of asbestos fibers by developing scar tissue in its attempt to reject the mineral. Specifically, asbestosis develops in the alveoli, tiny lung sacs that process breathed-in oxygen and swap it for carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
It can take decades for asbestosis to develop after initial inhalation of asbestos.
Symptoms caused by asbestosis can at times be relatively mild, but can also become extremely difficult to treat and endure as the disease progresses. Symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath, potentially severe, from stiffening of tissue
- Chronic, dry cough
- Enlarged heart from drop in blood flowing to the diseased lungs
- Loss of appetite
- Drop in weight
- Clubbing in fingertips and toes, meaning they become relatively round and wide as compared with normal size
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Higher risk of lung infections
While many experts say that no level of asbestos exposure is safe, asbestosis usually develops in people who had high levels of asbestos exposure over a sustained period of time, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asbestosis then, is a disease mostly of people who worked for years in industrial settings in which asbestos was not properly contained, protective equipment not supplied or safe practices not followed.
Asbestosis Patients Should Try to Stop Smoking
Asbestosis may progress more swiftly in victims who smoke tobacco. Lung cancer risk is also higher in patient who has asbestosis and smokes.
To diagnose and treat the disease, doctors may use chest X-rays, CT scans and pulmonary function tests. Because the illness is progressive, the treatment focus is on relieving symptoms and slowing down the disease’s advancement. Victims may require supplemental oxygen through tubing or masks.