Asbestosis is a long term condition of the lungs, for which there is no cure. The cause of asbestosis is prolonged asbestos exposure. Asbestos, meanwhile, is a group of minerals that are made up of tiny fibers. Asbestos has been used in anything from clothing to construction for many years, this despite industries being aware of its inherent dangers.

The Dangers of Asbestos

It is now a known fact that asbestos is very dangerous. If undisturbed, it poses no risk. However, when it is broken, drilled, chipped, or otherwise in a poor state, a fine dust can be released. This dust contains fibers, and when those are inhaled or swallowed, asbestosis can develop. It is a gradual condition that takes many years to develop. Additionally, significant exposure is believed to be required before someone actually develops the condition. However, there are people who have had heavy exposure and who don’t develop it, as well as people who have had very low levels of exposure and nevertheless develop it.

Symptoms of Asbestosis

For those who breathe in asbestos fibers, their lungs may become scarred. This can lead to a range of different symptoms such as:

  • A persistent, often dry cough
  • Shortness of breath, which usually starts solely after physical activity but becomes much worse over time, until the slightest physical activity leaves the person breathless
  • Fatigue and other forms of extreme tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Clubbed fingertips
  • Chest pain

Asbestos has a very long latency period, which means it doesn’t usually develop until many years later. If you experience any of the above systems and you know you have had asbestos exposure, it is important to seek medical advice.

Asbestosis Treatment

Asbestosis cannot be cured, because it is caused by permanent lung damage. Those who are diagnosed with the condition must stop smoking as soon as possible if they are smokers. This is because smoking will make the situation worse. Additionally, it increases their chances of developing lung cancer as well as asbestosis. Those affected are often provided with oxygen therapy, which can significantly increase their quality of life.

Asbestosis Outlook

The prognosis of asbestosis varies significantly. It tends to depend on how much damage was done and whether or not the patients have any other conditions. Usually, the condition is progressive, meaning it gets worse over time. This can reduce their life expectancy. There are some cases, however, where the condition doesn’t seem to progress at all. The bigger risk is that people with asbestosis are more likely to develop another life threatening condition, including:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure
  • Pleural disease, which happens when the pleura (the membrane that covers the lungs) becomes thicker, leading to discomfort on the chest and extreme breathlessness.

Most of the time, when people who have asbestosis die, they do so because they suffer from one of the three conditions mentioned above, and those are actually the ones that lead to mortality.

Causes of Asbestosis

Very simply put, asbestosis is caused by breathing in the fibers of the asbestos minerals. This is why it is particularly common in people in certain industries, where asbestos was used for a long time. These include the construction industry, railroad industry, and the U.S. Navy. Because asbestos is a mineral that is fire resistant, incredibly durable, and very strong, it was highly popular and hailed by some as a ‘miracle mineral’. Three main types of asbestos were found commercially, which are:

  • Blue asbestos, or crocidolite
  • Brown asbestos, or amosite
  • White asbestos, or chrysolite

Each of these are very dangerous and research studies continue to be conducted in order to determine which one is the worst. Most asbestos are now banned, and there are strict regulations in this country and many countries abroad. However, there are still many buildings in which asbestos is likely to be present. Furthermore, because asbestos-related illnesses have a long latency period, it is believed that the number of cases has not yet peaked.

Asbestos and the Lungs

Whenever a foreign body is inhaled, for instance a dust particle, the macrophages, which are cells in the lungs, hunt it down and then break it up, stopping it from lodging into the tissue of the lungs and getting into the bloodstream. However, macrophages are unable to deal with asbestos fibers and cannot break them down. They will try, however, and in so doing they will release a range of substances to try and destroy them. What happens instead is that the alveoli, which are the lungs’ tiny air sacs, become damaged, which leads to scarring. The scarring of the lungs is what is known as asbestosis.

The alveoli are essential parts of the body, as they ensure oxygen is able to get into the body. When it does, carbon dioxide is taken out of the bloodstream. If there is scarring or damage on the alveoli, then the body is no longer able to properly provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. This, in turn, leads to breathlessness and other symptoms.

In order for asbestosis to be present, however, people will need to have been exposed to asbestos for a long time, usually for many years, and the levels of asbestos fibers should also be very high.

Jobs in Which Asbestosis Is Most Common

After the Second World War, the use of asbestos rose significantly, and continued to do so through the 1970s. Between the 1980s and 1990s, it started to decline at last. However, with a latency period of, sometimes, 50 years, it is possible that many people are not yet aware of the fact that they have developed it. Some occupations are believed to be at particular risk, and people involved in those jobs before the 1990s are encouraged to monitor their symptoms closely and to speak to their personal physician so that they are aware of the fact that the issue exists. The occupations include:

  • Boiler makers
  • Insulation workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steamfitters, pipefitters, and plumbers
  • Plasterers
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning technicians
  • Chemical technicians

Because asbestos isn’t used anymore today, it is only those who worked with the mineral in the past who are truly at any risk. That being said, because some asbestos remains present in older buildings, people like demolition workers, electricians, and caretakers may still be at some risk.

Preventing Asbestosis

Asbestosis is now banned in almost every country and industry in the world. However, older buildings and constructions still contain levels of asbestos, which has been undisturbed so far. This is why it is very important that people who work in construction, demolition, or caretaking in particular engage in safe working practices in order to avoid contamination. An employer should have policies and procedures in place, as well as providing workers with personal protective equipment and the necessary training.

Some residential properties may also contain asbestos, and it is possible to receive free advice from experts on this. It is vital that nobody remove the asbestos without proper training and equipment to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air.