Asbestosis is a chronic pulmonary lung condition for which there is no cure at the present time. It occurs in people who have had prolonged exposure to asbestos, a mineral that has been used in various industries until the 1980s, when it was banned because of the illnesses it can cause. Although banned, federal regulations are very confusing, which means some new asbestos are being introduced into circulation. More importantly, old asbestos is still present in many old buildings. This, put together with the fact that the latency period of asbestosis and other asbestos-related conditions can be as long as 50 years, means that many people continue to present with symptoms of asbestosis.

Understanding the Threat Posed by Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral that, if left undisturbed, does not pose any risk to health. However, if it is broken, chipped, drilled, or deteriorates (known as ‘disturbed’), it can release microscopic fibers into the air. These can be inhaled or ingested, which can lead to scarring and genetic mutations inside the body. When the fibers enter the lungs, they can cause tremendous damage, but this takes a very long time before it becomes apparent. Additionally, it is not clear how much exposure to asbestos will lead to the development of asbestosis. Furthermore, certain people seem to be more or less predisposed to have it, with some people developing the condition with only minimal levels of exposure, and others not developing it even though they have been exposed regularly to high levels.

Types of Asbestosis

There is only one type of asbestosis. However, it can lead to two other conditions, namely mesothelioma and lung cancer. It is very important, therefore, to recognize the symptoms of pulmonary problems, particularly for those who have been exposed to asbestos. By properly managing asbestosis, a person may be able to avoid developing lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Symptoms of Asbestosis

People with asbestosis usually experience:

  • Shortness of breath, which becomes progressively worse. At first, people usually only experience it after physical exercise but as it progresses the problem can present itself even with minimal levels of physical exertion, such as walking to a different room.
  • Persistent coughs, with or without phlegm or sputum
  • Fatigues and extreme tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Clubbed and swollen fingers, although this generally only happens once the condition has progressed

There are two very serious problems with asbestosis diagnosis. Firstly, the disease has a very long latency period, which means that people aren’t aware they have it until many years after their exposure. The second problem is that, in the early stages, the condition is very asymptomatic and most people do not seek medical advice until the condition has progressed quite significantly, which means treatment would then be very difficult.

Asbestosis Testing and Diagnostics

For those who are suspected to have asbestosis, a number of tests will be ordered to confirm it and to rule out other conditions that may present in similar ways. The patient will usually also be tested for mesothelioma and lung cancer. Testing will start with a doctor listening to the person’s breathing by using a stethoscope, which is also part of a routine physical examination. The patient may also be asked to have an x-ray, which will be investigated for abnormalities, including honeycomb or white appearances. Additionally, a pulmonary function test may be ordered, which measures how well the lungs are functioning.

Lastly, the physician will likely check how much oxygen is actually transferred to the blood stream by the lungs. This can be achieved with various tests, including the CT scan. If anything is found on any of the tests, it is likely that a biopsy of the lung tissue will be undertaken. This will allow laboratory professionals to determine whether there are any asbestos fibers present.

Prognosis for Asbestosis

Asbestosis in itself does not have a very poor prognosis. It all depends on how much damage has been sustained in the lung tissue. Prognosis is also significantly influenced by whether or not any other medical conditions exist. It is common for asbestosis to worsen as well, and this means that quality of life is significantly reduced and prognosis becomes much worse. However, in the vast majority of cases, the condition barely progresses, meaning quality of life isn’t affected much.

The biggest problem is that asbestosis can lead to three other conditions, which have a very poor prognosis. These conditions are:

  1. Pleural disease, which is a condition in which the pleura, which is a membrane that covers the lungs, starts to get thicker. When his happens, breathlessness is significantly reduced. Additionally, people experience significant pain and discomfort.
  2. Mesothelioma, which is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the lungs’ lining in its most common form. It can also, in rarer cases, affect the lining of the abdomen. Least commonly, it can affect the lining of the heart and the testicles. It is not clear how this happens.
  3. Lung cancer, which is an aggressive form of cancer that is most commonly found in smokers. Lung cancer can also be caused by asbestos ingestion, however. In fact, people who have never smoked but have had asbestos exposure may develop lung cancer. It is particularly common in people who both smoked and been exposed to asbestos, most often during their work.

Generally speaking, people who have received an asbestosis diagnosis do not die of the condition. Rather, it makes them harder to treat and prognosis can become worse. However, it is far more common to develop any of the three conditions mentioned above. Prognosis for these conditions is very poor, not in the least because they are often not discovered until the disease has progressed to the latter stages.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, it is very important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. This will ensure that you can be monitored for any sign of the presence of one of the conditions. Catching the symptoms as early as possible is vital to enhance one’s prognosis. As it is possible to relieve many of the symptoms, this can boost overall quality of life in a person with asbestosis.