Asbestosis is a disease that developes after prolonged exposure to airborn asbestos fibers. There is no cure for asbestosis. This disease results in scarring of the lung tissue and is associated with certain types of cancer including mesothelioma.
Asbestos FibersAsbestos occurs naturally in the environment. Asbestos minerals break down into long, rod-shaped fibers. These fibers are very sturdy and do not evaporate, dissolve, burn, or react significantly with most chemicals. These unique features made asbestos a popular choice among many manufacturers to be used in making home builiding products, insulating and fire proofing material, brake pads and transmission parts for cars. Recognizing the health risks associated with these compounds, in 1989 the EPA placed a ban on all new uses for asbestos.
Who Gets AsbestosisPeople with prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers may get asbestosis. Generally, these are occupational exposures for people who work in the home building, mining, and textile manufacturing fields. Small asbestos particals can float around in the air for long periods of time before they settle to the ground and many of the particals get inhaled and get stuck in the lung. The longer a person is around these partical and breathing them into their lungs, the greater the chance of developing asbestosis.
What Happens to The LungsThe long, rod-shaped asbestos fibers act sort of like a needle and stick into the lung tissue when they are inhaled. The body knows that these particals are not supposed to be there, so it sends in certain cells called macrophages to get rid of the asbestos fibers. The macrophage tries to engulf the fiber. However, because of the needle-like shape of the asbestos fiber, the macrophage is popped in the process. When the macrophage bursts and spills it contents, a tiny amount of scar tissue is formed. As scar tissue accumulates over time, the lungs become stiff. It is important to know that this disease has a very slow rate of progression and it can be 20-30 years after exposure before any symptoms are noticed.
Asbestos Can Cause CancerPeople who have been exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of getting cancer. One type of cancer in particular that is associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that occurs in the lining of the lungs (or the lining of other organs). Most cases of mesothelioma are linked to asbestosis.
Symptoms of AsbestosisAs stated above, the symptoms of asbestosis may not show up until decades after the exposure. The symptoms most commonly experienced include:
- shortness of breath
- blood in the sputum
- pain in the chest or abdomen
- difficulty swallowing or prolonged hoarsness
- significant weight loss
Treatment for AsbestosisTreatment for asbestosis is centered around treating symptoms as they occur. Because of the way this disease effects the lungs, good bronchial hygiene will be needed for anyone diagnosed with asbestosis. Anyone diagnosed with asbestosis should guard against lung infections and quit smoking as well. Other therapies that may be needed include supplemental oxygen, bronchodilators, steroids, chest percussion and postural drainage, antibiotics, and more. Your doctor will know which treatments are needed to take care of your particular symptoms.