Asbestosis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

Asbestosis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

Asbestosis Definition

Asbestosis is a lung disease that results when tiny asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged in the air tubes in the lungs (bronchi), where they cause scarring. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can also cause the membrane encasing the lungs (pleura) to thicken, or tumors to develop in the pleura (mesothelioma) or in the sac lining the abdomen.

Asbestosis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

Asbestos inhalation is also associated with a form of lung cancer (bronchogenic carcinoma) in people who smoke. Nonsmokers who are exposed to asbestos are at no greater risk for asbestosis than nonsmokers who are not exposed.

One of the unusual things about asbestosis is the long "lag-time" between asbestos exposure and the resulting illness. For example, a year of exposure in youth may not cause symptoms until 30 years later.

Over time, the scars from asbestosis cause the lungs to become stiff, making breathing increasingly difficult. Up to 15 percent of people with asbestosis eventually die of respiratory failure.

Lung transplantation is the only way to manage end-stage asbestos lung disease, and most people who need it are not eligible candidates because of their advanced age or due to other medical problems.

Causes of Asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.

How severe the disease is depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount he or she breathed in. Often, people do not notice symptoms for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.

Asbestos fibers were commonly used in construction before 1975. Asbestos exposure occurred in asbestos mining and milling, construction, fireproofing, and other industries. Families of asbestos workers can also be exposed from particles brought home on the worker's clothing.

Other asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Pleural plaques (calcification)
  • Malignant mesothelioma -- can develop 20-40 years after exposure
  • Pleural effusion -- a collection that develops around the lung a few years after asbestos exposure
Workers today are less likely to get asbestos-related diseases because of government regulations.

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of getting asbestos-related diseases.

What are the Symptoms of Asbestosis?

Although the symptoms of asbestosis may not be noticed for decades after a person has been exposed to asbestos, the primary symptoms of the disease are decreased tolerance for physical exertion and shortness of breath. If you experience symptoms of asbestosis, this may well mean that many scars have formed in your lungs. The severity of the symptoms is often related to the amount and length of asbestos exposure.

Other symptoms of asbestosis usually include:

Asbestosis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

  • Asbestos Symptoms
  • A persistent, dry cough
  • Chest pain
  • Blood in the sputum
  • Swelling in the neck or face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss
  • Shortness of breath with exertion (slowly gets worse over time)
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Fingertips and toes that appear wider and rounder than normal (clubbing)

There is always evidence of fibrosis in the lower lung lobes where asbestosis is most prevalent, and more than 50 percent of people affected with asbestosis develop plaques in the parietal pleura, which is the space between the chest wall and the lungs.

When to see a doctor

If you have a history of exposure to asbestos and you're experiencing increasing shortness of breath, talk to your doctor about the possibility of asbestosis.

How is Asbestosis Diagnosed?

Recommended diagnostic tools for determining if a patient has asbestosis include:

  • Complete physical examination
  • Chest X-ray
  • Lung function tests
In addition, a lung biopsy, in which tissue is removed by surgery, is the most reliable way to confirm the presence of microscopic asbestos fibers because X-rays cannot detect asbestos fibers in the lungs.

Treating and Preventing Asbestosis

There is currently no specific treatment for asbestosis. The management of asbestosis should focus on preventive measures.

Supportive treatment of symptoms includes:

  • Oxygen therapy to relieve shortness of breath
  • Respiratory physiotherapy to remove secretions from the lungs
  • Medications to thin secretions and relieve pain

Asbestosis is preventable, mainly through reducing the amount of asbestos dust in the workplace. As many industries are phasing out the use of asbestos because of its health hazards, the number of people who have asbestosis is now decreasing. However, there is still poor control over the use of asbestos in developing countries, and immigrants may continue to present with the disease for many years.

If you have asbestosis, you must immediately stop all exposure to asbestos. If you're a smoker, you must also stop smoking in order to prevent serious complications. There are no specific treatments available for asbestosis. General treatments available for the kind of restrictive lung disease it causes include bronchodilator inhalers and exercise programs. Respiratory infections should be treated promptly. If you have asbestosis, vaccination shots against pneumococcal pneumonia and the flu can help prevent lung infection. Therapy with pure oxygen helps if you have an advanced case of the illness.

If you work in an industry that uses asbestos, you should make sure your employer takes preventive steps to ensure your safety and that of your fellow workers. Many countries have adopted regulations about acceptable limits of asbestos exposure and use mandatory guidelines to carefully monitor types and degrees of exposure.

Laws are now in force that set standards for protective clothing and regulate the record keeping of data about any possible exposure. Other areas that need close regulation include the use of respirator equipment when asbestos levels are above a specified level, appropriate labeling of materials that contain asbestos, and air and water safety. Employers must provide mandatory medical examinations at specified intervals for workers who are exposed to asbestos.

Home Remedies for Asbestosis

Stop smoking. Asbestosis increases the risk of lung cancer. Quitting smoking can reduce this risk. Try to avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking might also cause emphysema, which further reduces your lung reserves.

Get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about flu and pneumonia vaccines, which can help lower your risk of lung infections. Promptly treat respiratory infections.

What Occupations are at Risk of Developing Asbestosis?

Throughout most of the twentieth century, millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos. The greatest risk for contracting diseases like asbestosis has fallen upon those in the asbestos mining and milling trades; those manufacturing asbestos textiles and other products; shipbuilders; and insulation workers in the construction and building trades.

After the early 1970s, when the use of asbestos declined in the U.S., those individuals most at risk have been demolition workers, drywall removers, asbestos removal workers, firefighters and automobile workers.

Asbestosis is a painful, crippling disease. Its only cause is exposure to asbestos. As the aging population of asbestosis sufferers continues to sicken and die, it is imperative upon the rest of society to continue to hold accountable those responsible for their suffering  –  the asbestos mining and manufacturing companies, who knew of the dangers of asbestos contact, yet continued to expose their workers to the dangerous and ultimately lethal fiber.

Additional factors of how asbestos can affect an individual:
  • the dose (how much asbestos the individual was exposed to)
  • the duration (how long an individual was exposed)
  • the type of asbestos
  • the source of the exposure

Possible Complications of Asbestosis

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome depends on the amount of asbestos you were exposed to, and for how long. This condition tends to get worse more slowly than idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis if you stop being exposed to asbestos.

Patients who develop malignant mesothelioma tend t ohave a poor outcome. About 75% of those who are affected die within 1 year.