Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a natural mineral product that’s resistant to heat and corrosion. Many years ago, it had widespread use in products such as insulation, cement and some floor tiles.
Asbestos fibers are long and thin. They are commonly known by their colors, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and green asbestos.
Asbestosis symptoms can range from mild to severe, and usually don’t appear until many years after continued exposure. If you are exposed to high levels of asbestos dust over a long period of time, some of the airborne fibers can become lodged within your alveoli — the tiny sacs inside your lungs where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide in your blood. The asbestos fibers irritate and damage lung tissue, causing the lungs to become less elastic. This makes it more difficult to breathe.
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. Acquiring asbestosis is extremely unlikely if you follow your employer’s safety procedures and guidelines. Treatment focuses on relieving your symptoms.
The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos typically don’t show up for 10 to 40 years after initial exposure. Asbestosis signs and symptoms can include: shortness of breath, a persistent, dry cough, loss of appetite with weight loss, clubbing of fingertips and toes, chest tightness or pain.
This condition is seen in: miners, aircraft and auto mechanics, building construction workers, workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings, electricians, and shipyard workers.
If you are experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms, it is important to consult your primary care physician. Your doctor will take a history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may also order some imaging tests such as: chest X-ray.
Advanced asbestosis appears as excessive whiteness in your lung tissue. If the asbestosis is severe, your entire lungs might be affected, giving them a honeycomb appearance. Another test utilized is Computerized Tomography (CT). CT scans are a series of X-ray views which produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. These scans generally provide greater detail in regards to anatomy.
Pulmonary function tests. These tests determine how well your lungs are functioning as well as measure how much air your lungs can hold. They also measure the airflow in and out of your lungs. Smoking cigarettes appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, and often results in a faster progression of the disease. There is no cure for this disease. Treatment is palliative.
Doctors may prescribe supplemental oxygen via a nasal cannula or mask. They may also prescribe physiotherapy to promote drainage of secretions. In addition, nebulized medication may be used. It also suggested to vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza. It has also been reported there is an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma when you have asbestosis.
Support and information is available at the American Lung Association at www.lung.org or 1-800 LUNGUSA.
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