Asbestos is a fibrous mineral which had been frequently used in industries before researchers discovered its toxicity. After numerous studies, scientists have discovered that the (microscopic) fibers of asbestos, once penetrate the lungs, can form pulmonary lesions causing breathing difficulty; this medical condition is called asbestosis.
Asbestosis is a chronic non malignant lung disease of the pneumoconiosis family; it can progress silently up to 30 years after exposure to asbestos before symptoms occur. During its silent period, the fiber continue to damage the lungs causing them to inflamed, which turns slowly in pulmonary fibrosis (thickening or scarring of the lung tissue).
Asbestosis is caused by inhalation intense and prolonged of asbestos fibers. More a person is exposed to asbestos fibers, higher is the risk of asbestosis. People who are more easily exposed to asbestos are those who exercise the profession of:
• Brake lining worker
• Pipe fitter
• Power Plant worker
• Boiler maker and repairer
• Insulators (those who install insulating materials)
• Miner of asbestos
• Railroad worker
• Worker in the production of fire bricks, fire-retardant paints, asbestos cement.
At the beginning, asbestosis is completely asymptomatic. As the disease progresses, after a number of years, symptoms start occurring. However, the initial symptoms of asbestosis are not significant and are sometimes neglected. A shortness of breath (dyspnea), the main symptom of asbestosis, worsens progressively as the disease continues to damage the lungs. And then, the dyspnea is accompanied by a dry cough, Finger deformity and a feeling of tightness in the chest. Thereafter, respiratory failure develops.
Non cancerous lung diseases – asbestosis can increase the risk of contracting tuberculosis and lung cancer, especially among smokers. According to many medical researchers, smokers are more likely to develop chronic bronchitis and obstructive airway disease, and are more prone to respiratory infections.
Lung Cancer – asbestosis victims who smoke have higher risk of developing bronchogenic carcinoma (the most common fatal cancer in the United States, accounting for 28% of all cancer deaths) than those who do not; asbestos and tobacco smoke are synergistic in carcinogenicity. Individuals who both smoke and are exposed to asbestos or already have abestosis are 59 times more susceptible to develop lung cancer than those who do not.
Mesothelioma – if you have been exposed to asbestos for a long period of time, you are at increased risk of developing malignant mesothelioma. Your risk is even higher if you were exposed at an early age.
Pulmonary Hypertension – asbestosis damages the tissue of your lungs and prevents normal blood flow within your lungs’ small blood vessels; this condition increases blood pressure in your lungs, leading to a medical condition called pulmonary hypertension.
Heart problems – most people with asbestosis develop heart problems before they die.
The physician may ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle such as your work place and any other places you may have gone that expose you to asbestos fibers. Since one can carry asbestos on his/her clothes, the doctor may also ask you questions about the work activities of your friends and family members.
The second step in the diagnosis is physical exam with a stethoscope. If your lungs give a crackling sound, the doctor may recommend X-ray, scanner, Lung function tests and lung biopsy.
Chest X-ray – a chest X-ray can reveal pleural plaques (small scars caused by fiber deposits as a result of exposure to asbestos) on the lining of your lungs. However, the result of the chest x-ray requires supplemental exams to confirm the diagnosis.
Lung function tests – also called Pulmonary function tests, Lung function tests are used to detect the cause of breathing problems such as asthma, lung tissue scarring, sarcoidosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pulmonary function tests are also used to determine how much air you can breathe in and out.
Computed Tomography (CT or CAT scan) – This radiographic procedure allows to detecting or confirming the presence of asbestosis in the lungs. It is a very sensitive exam which helps the physician to detect asbestosis in its genesis stage. It is more accurate than X-ray.
Lung Biopsy – a medical specialist can remove a small piece of lung tissue to confirm the diagnosis; however, this test is rarely performed.
Once asbestosis is found, there is no effective curative treatment, but palliative and/or symptomatic to improve your life: medications, supplemental oxygen (oxygen therapy) or chest tube thoracostomy to drain fluid from around the lungs. Those treatment, however, do not prevent the disease from leading to increasing disability.
Medications – asbestosis always cause pain, cough, and other problems. Your physician can use certain rugs to control the symptoms of the disease, and eventually improve your life. Most of the drugs are over the counter medications, which may include acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin…).
Oxygen Therapy – if the oxygen level in your blood is too low or you have chronic respiratory failure associated with fatigue, fainting (syncope), breathlessness with mild exercise (climbing stairs for instance), your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen. You will receive oxygen through a small tube or mask. It may also be issued to you by a tracheotomy tube or a respirator if your condition does not allow you to ensure satisfactory spontaneous ventilation. The amount of oxygen administered varies depending on the severity of disease.
Chest Tube Thoracostomy – this technique consist of creating an opening in your chest wall through which is inserted a tube that allows air and fluid to be drained. This procedure is performed under local anesthesia by an ICU doctor. Your doctor will perform an antiseptic hand rubbing along with a thorough disinfection of the skin before the cut to prevent infection and other complications. Usually, an incision about 2 cm is made to allow the passage of the drain between two ribs. The drain can be placed at various locations in the chest depending on the location of the fluids to be evacuated.
Preventing asbestosis is the best option. Asbestosis is a slow but an unstoppable killer; once you have it, you have it for life; your chance to be cured from it is very minim. If you feel that you work in an industry at risk of exposure to asbestos, you have to take all necessary measures to protect yourself from against exposure and inhalation of asbestos. It is important to discuss your health concerns with your employer and require that he / she provides physical protection required by law to eliminate your risk of developing the disease.
However, although it is legally the responsibility of your employer to provide safety devices against asbestos, it is your responsibility to protect your health and the health of your family. If your employer is negligent or refuses to provide your safety, do your duty; contact a health worker to support you right away. Your employer will be obliged to comply with the law. If you have been exposed to asbestos, early screening by chest x-ray may help prevent asbestosis.
Quit smoking – If you are a smoker and have been in contact with asbestos, stop smoking and have a chest x-ray annually to reduce the risk of lung cancer and other pulmonary infections.
Lifestyle – Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, avoid stress and sleep for at least 7 hours every day can help you have a healthy immune system, and reduce the development of the disease.
Asbestosis diagnosis depends on its severity, its duration before being discovered and importance of the exposure to asbestos. The life expectancy of a person suffering from asbestosis associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma, or TB is very low. In general, the average length of survival in cases of complication of mesothelioma or lung cancer is several months to a few years. The survival rate at 5 years for asbestosis complicated by lung cancer and mesothelioma does not exceed 20% of patients. In case there is no complication, you can live with asbestosis for many years.
However, your lifespan and quality of life have something to do with the availability of your caregivers, and your participation to resist the progression of the disease. Adopt an anti-cancer diet: Drink at least two glasses of fresh juice and cruciferous vegetable per day taken along with immune boosting supplements are key elements that can help you fight asbestosis and live longer or recover completely. Visit our cancer diet section for more details.
The law forbids all industries to expose their employees to asbestos. If your employer neglects or refuses to provide you all necessary security you need and you develop asbestosis, it is important that you contact a lawyer to support you immediately; you will be rewarded according to law. Now days, authorities of all over the world have passed laws prohibiting the use of asbestos where it represents a threat to people.
Asbestos attorneys can help you punish the people who make you become a victim of asbestosis. They will help you to collect large sums of money, allowing you to pay your bills and have a stable financial life for the rest of your life with the illness.
Always hire asbestos lawyers who are competent that can hear your case and help you determine the course of action to take. In countries like the United States and Canada, you can find many asbestosis attorneys full of experiences that are ready to guide you step by step if you have been diagnosed with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma. You can contact one of our lawyers; they will sit down with you and help you get the compensation you deserve.
1 – Peter T Porrello, MD, FACEP, Clinical Instructor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Informatics Officer, Consulting Staff, Waterbury Hospital – Neoplasms, Lung
2 – Tamas Peredy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Maine Medical Center – Neoplasms, Lung
3 – National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute – How the Lungs Work
4 – mayoclinic.com, abestois complications