Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a lung disease that develops when asbestos fibers cause scarring in your lungs. The scarring restricts your breathing and interferes with the ability of oxygen to enter your bloodstream. Other names for this disease are pulmonary fibrosis and interstitial pneumonitis.

Many cases originate from workplace exposure to asbestos before federal laws regulating it were enacted in the mid-1970s. This disease takes years to develop and can be life-threatening. The total number of asbestos-related deaths in the United States may exceed 200,000 by the year 2030, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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Dr. Anirban Deep Banerjee

When you inhale asbestos fibers, they can become embedded in your lungs and lead to the formation of scar tissue. This scarring is known as asbestosis. The scarring can make it difficult for you to breathe because it prevents your lung tissue from expanding and contracting normally.

You may face a higher risk of developing the disease if you worked in an industry associated with asbestos before federal laws to regulate exposure were put into place. Asbestos was commonly found in construction and fireproofing jobs. Asbestos is still used in certain industries, but it’s closely monitored by the government through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

You also face a much higher chance of developing asbestosis and other related diseases if you smoke.

People who worked in mining, milling, manufacturing, installation or removal of asbestos products before the late 1970s are at risk of asbestosis. Examples include:

  • Asbestos miners
  • Aircraft and auto mechanics
  • Building construction workers
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings
  • Electricians
  • Shipyard workers
  • Boiler operators
  • Railroad workers

In general, it’s safe to be around materials that are made with asbestos as long as the asbestos fibers are contained. This prevents them from getting into the air.

In most cases, symptoms don’t start to appear until approximately 20 years (range 10 to 40 years) after exposure to asbestos.

Common symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in your chest
  • persistent dry cough
  • chest pain
  • appetite loss
  • finger clubbing (enlarged fingertips)
  • nail deformities

Your doctor will perform several tests to learn whether you have asbestosis and to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.

First, your doctor will usually use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal breath sounds as part of a physical exam. Your doctor may also order X-rays to look for a white or honeycomb appearance on your lungs or chest. Pulmonary (lung) function tests may be used to measure the amount of air you can inhale and the airflow to and from your lungs.

Your doctor might also test to see how much oxygen is transferred from your lungs to your bloodstream. CT scans can be used to examine your lungs in more detail. Your doctor might also order a biopsy to look for asbestos fibers in a sample of your lung tissue.

Asbestosis can’t be cured. However, there are a few treatments that can help control or reduce symptoms. Prescription inhalers may help loosen congestion in your lungs. Supplemental oxygen from a mask or tubes that fit inside your nose can help if you have severe difficulty breathing.

Asbestosis treatments also involve preventing the disease from getting worse. You can do this by avoiding further exposure to asbestos and by quitting smoking.

A lung transplant might be an option if your condition is severe.

Asbestos awareness can help prevent asbestos exposure, which can cause mesothelioma and other health issues. ... For decades, most workers and the general public had no idea asbestos exposure could lead to serious diseases like maligant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

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