Asbestosis is a long-term chronic lung condition caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that leads to scarring in lung tissue, causing difficulty breathing. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and often don’t surface until years after exposure.
Asbestos is a mineral product that’s resistant to heat and corrosion. It was used extensively in the past in products such as insulation, cement and some floor tiles.
Most people with asbestosis acquired it on the job before the federal government began regulating the use of asbestos and asbestos products in the 1970s. Today, its handling is strictly regulated. Getting asbestosis is extremely unlikely if you follow your employer’s safety procedures.
The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos typically don’t show up until 10-40 years after initial exposure. Symptoms can vary in severity.
Asbestosis signs and symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath.
- A persistent, dry cough.
- Chest tightness or pain.
- Crackling sounds in the lungs during inhalation.
- Wider, rounder fingertips and toes (clubbing).
When to see a doctor
If you have a history of exposure to asbestos and you are experiencing increasing shortness of breath, talk to your health care provider about the possibility of asbestosis.
Exposure to high levels of asbestos dust for extended periods can cause fibers to become lodged in the alveoli, hindering the lungs’ exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.The asbestos fibers irritate and scar lung tissue, causing the lungs to become stiff. This makes it difficult to breathe.
As asbestosis progresses, more lung tissue become scarred. Eventually, your lung tissue becomes so stiff that it can’t contract and expand normally.
Smoking appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, and often results in a faster progression of the disease.
Asbestosis risk is highest for those who worked in asbestos-related industries (mining, milling, manufacturing, installation or removal) prior to the late 1970s.Examples include:
- Asbestos miners
- Aircraft and auto mechanics
- Boiler operators
- Building construction workers
- Railroad workers
- Refinery and mill workers
- Shipyard workers
Asbestosis risk is largely determined by the level and length of asbestos exposure. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk of damaging the lungs.
Secondhand exposure is possible for household members of exposed workers, as asbestos fibers may be carried home on clothing. People living close to mines may also be exposed to asbestos fibers released into the air.
Minimizing asbestos exposure is the most effective way to prevent asbestosis. Buildings built before the 1970s have materials such as pipes and floor tiles that contain asbestos. Generally, there’s no risk of exposure if the asbestos is enclosed and undisturbed. Danger of inhaling asbestos fibers occurs when asbestos-containing materials are damaged. Have inspections and removal done by accredited professionals.
Therapy for asbestosis
Oxygen therapy is recommended to people who struggle with asbestosis, as it helps relieve difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, both very distressing symptoms of asbestosis. However, it must be administered under medical supervision, as it entails several health risks.
The benefits of oxygen therapy in asbestosis patients
In addition to medication such as bronchodilators, whose purpose is to relax the muscles of the airways, oxygen therapy is occasionally prescribed to people who struggle with asbestosis, as the disease is characterized by difficulty breathing. The oxygen is transferred from an oxygen concentrator. While not everyone who suffers from asbestosis needs oxygen therapy, it is often very effective in relieving symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. Furthermore, oxygen therapy with oxygen concentrator reduces the risk of complications which may stem from asbestosis, such as pleural effusion, atelectasis, and diffuse pleural thickening.
There is 21% oxygen in the air we breathe. However, people who have asbestosis often need more to alleviate their symptoms, as their lungs are damaged by the disease. The following are only some of the benefits of oxygen therapy for asbestosis patients:
- prevents heart failure.
- increases survival rate.
- improves sleep.
- heightens mental alertness.
- decreases fatigue.
- reduces difficulty breathing.
- alleviates headache.
- enhances life quality.
- boosts mood.