Asbestosis is a serious lung disease that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. This condition results in scarring of the lungs and increases the risk of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Please read the article to know more.
Asbestosis is a medical condition that is associated with lung scarring. This is a lung disease that is caused as a result of scarring inside the lungs due to the asbestosis fibers. The scarring of the lungs will reduce the level of oxygen that enters the bloodstream by restricting your breathing range and disrupting your breathing pattern. This condition is also referred to as interstitial pneumonitis and pulmonary fibrosis.
Asbestosis is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos in the workplace, and it generally takes more than a couple of years or sometimes even a decade to develop into a full-grown disease. Though it is very slow in progression, it may be life-threatening in some cases.
The symptoms associated with asbestosis do not start to appear at the time of exposure to the asbestos fibers. In most cases, it shows symptoms after 15 to 20 years of continuous exposure. Some of the common symptoms of asbestosis include,
Loss of appetite.
Persistent dry cough.
Feeling of tightness in the chest.
Frequent shortness of breath.
Deformities in the nails.
Enlarged fingertips (also known as finger clubbing).
As mentioned earlier, the only reason behind the asbestosis condition is the scarring of the lungs, which occurs due to the inhalation of the asbestosis fibers. When you are constantly exposed to asbestosis fibers during your work or due to your surroundings, they enter the lungs and get embedded in them. This leads to scarring and, as a result, forms scar tissue, and so the condition is collectively known as asbestosis.
When the lung tissue gets scarred, it interrupts the normal functioning of the lungs as expanding and contracting of the lung tissues become harder. This leads to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Also, it has been identified that people working in the field of construction and fireproofing jobs have high chances of getting asbestosis when compared to other professionals.
Since long-term exposure to asbestos has been proven to be life-threatening, several laws have been implemented to regulate a worker's exposure to asbestos in industries and other workplaces. Even today, there are many industries that use asbestos for their work, but they are closely monitored and inspected by the occupational safety and health administration (OSHA).
Also, it has been found that the chances of getting asbestosis are relatively high for people who smoke or have been smoking for at least 3 to 5 years.
Since asbestosis is mainly caused by long-term exposure, people who have worked in mining, manufacturing, milling, or handling asbestos products have increased risks. Hence some of the professionals that are at high risk for asbestosis are,
Building construction workers.
Workers who install and remove asbestos from old buildings.
Aircraft and automobile mechanics.
Even though there is no proof, it is speculated that secondhand exposure of asbestos is possible for the family members of these working professionals as these asbestos fibers tend to stick and get carried away by the clothes. Also, these fibers are very light, and so they can travel through the air.
When long-term exposure to asbestos is not given proper medical attention, it might lead to a severe form of lung cancer known as malignant mesothelioma.
Also, when asbestos exposure is combined with smoking, it leads to other forms of lung cancer.
Pleural effusion – A buildup of fluid around the lungs is possible to occur upon a long time of asbestos exposure.
Since the symptoms associated with asbestosis are very similar to other types of respiratory disease, diagnosing asbestosis might be challenging.
1) Physical Examination:
The first step in diagnosing asbestosis will be through physical examination. The doctor will ask about your medical history, nature of work, occupational and accidental exposure to asbestos in the past, etc. The doctor will also listen to the breathing through a stethoscope to check if there is any crackling sound during inhaling and exhaling.
2) Imaging Tests:
Chest X-ray - The doctors will ask for a chest x-ray because there will be a snowlike honeycomb appearance in and around the lung area in more severe cases.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan - Similar to a chest x-ray, a CT scan provides greater detail and accuracy about the size and the location of the scarring. Unlike a chest x-ray, a CT scan can help in identifying asbestosis in the early stage itself.
3) Pulmonary Function Test:
As asbestosis affects lung function, some basic lung functioning tests are taken to help measure the capacity of the lungs to hold the air and the rate of airflow in and out of the lungs. Also, an air-measurement device, known as a spirometer, is used during the test to measure the exhale rate, and you will be asked to blow as hard as possible into the device.
Similar to endoscopy, a small thin tube is inserted into the throat through your nose or mouth and then into the lungs. This tube will have a camera and light, which helps the doctor to look more closely into the inner side of the lungs for any scarring. It is also possible to get a fluid or tissue sample that can be used to perform a biopsy if required.
There is no treatment that can reverse the scarring or the lung damage. Treatment of asbestosis focuses on managing the symptoms and slowing down the rate of progression to ensure there are no further complications. This requires constant follow-up with the doctor and frequent x-rays and CT scans to check the rate of progression and to assess the condition at regular time intervals.
Since the normal functioning of the lungs is affected, your doctor will suggest using supplemental oxygen, which is delivered into the mouth or nose through thin tubes connected to masks. Also, there are prescription medications that help in loosening the lung congestion and, in turn, improve the breathing process.
Your doctor might suggest you avoid further exposure to asbestos and recommend you stop smoking if you are an active smoker. Also, relaxing techniques that help increase your breathing and lung capacity, such as Yoga, will help ease down the symptoms. In case of very severe asbestosis or if the condition has led to any lung cancer, then lung transplant is the only other treatment option.
Since many health care organizations have closely regulated asbestos exposure, the current generation has less risk of asbestosis when compared to our previous generations. If you have been exposed to asbestos for a long time, like 5 to 10 years, then it is important to check with your doctor and have proper routine checkups every 2 to 3 years to make sure there is no problem with the lung functioning.
Last reviewed at:
24 Nov 2021 - 5 min read
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