Asbestosis is a progressive fibrotic disease of the lungs resulting from exposure to high levels of asbestos or prolonged exposure to asbestos. Workers in mining and construction industries were at risk of asbestos exposure prior to the 1970s, and construction workers are still at risk when working on older buildings.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the lungs, leading to chronic inflammation and scarring. Over many years, typically at least 10 to 20 years, this scarring can lead to fibrosis and increased rigidity of the lungs. This ultimately leads to difficulty breathing, with some patients requiring supplemental oxygen.
The primary symptoms of asbestosis are dyspnea, defined as shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and a chronic cough. A history of asbestos exposure, often due to occupational conditions, is useful for diagnosis. A positive diagnosis for asbestosis also often follows a chest x-ray or CT scan and lung function tests. The development of other asbestos-related conditions, such as pleural effusion or pleural plaques, may also contribute to a diagnosis of asbestosis. Asbestosis may be accompanied by other complications including lung cancer, mesothelioma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The reduced lung function as a result of asbestosis leaves patients at risk of other lung and respiratory illnesses. As a result, the patient is at increased risk of complications due to smoking. Due to the increased danger of infections, vaccinations again respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or influenza may be recommended.
Currently there is no cure for asbestosis, although various therapies may be used to provide some relief to sufferers of this condition. Oxygen may be administered to address any oxygen deficits resulting from shortness of breath or reduced lung function. Various physical treatments such as chest percussion or drainage may help alleviate symptoms while pharmaceutical treatments may also be used to address the buildup of secretions in the lungs of asbestosis patients.
If you think you may be suffering from asbestosis, contact us.
- O’Reilly KM, Mclaughlin AM, Beckett WS, Sime PJ. Asbestos-related lung disease. Am Fam Physician. 2007; 75(5):683-8.