What Is Asbestosis? Everything to Know
Read on to find out more about asbestosis. This guide includes information about how to recognize symptoms, what causes asbestosis, how to treat the condition, and more.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that develops over time from long-term inhalation of asbestos fibers. It most commonly affects people who work in the building, construction, and other industries where there is frequent exposure to asbestos.
According to the American Lung Association, it can take from 10–40 years following exposure to asbestos for symptoms to appear. When you do experience symptoms, they can include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- tight chest
- persistent dry cough
- crackling sound in your lungs when you breathe in
- loss of appetite, which can result in weight loss
- clubbing of fingertips and toes, where they appear wider and rounder
Asbestosis is typically an occupational lung disease that occurs following prolonged exposure to asbestos. Inhaling high levels of asbestos fibers and dust can irritate the lung tissue.
Fibers can become trapped in the alveoli, which are the air sacs in the lungs and end of the airways. Over time, this can scar the lungs. This means that your lungs become stiff and are unable to expand as they should.
If you smoke, this can increase the damage that results from inhaling asbestos fibers. This can make asbestosis quicker to progress.
Learn more about the causes of pneumoconiosis.
You may be at risk of asbestosis if you work or have worked with asbestos, particularly before the late 1970s.
In particular, you may be at risk of asbestosis if you have worked in the following industries:
- asbestos removal
- construction work
- electrical work
- industrial and power plant work
- shipyard work
Many homes built before 1977 contain asbestos in materials such as floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, and pipes. If the fibers are contained then this should not be harmful, as asbestosis occurs only from the inhalation of asbestos dust or fibers.
However, it is important to seek medical advice if you have concerns about asbestosis.
It is not possible to reverse the damage from the prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers. Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms and slowing down the progression of the condition.
Possible treatments for asbestosis include:
- oxygen therapy
- pulmonary rehabilitation to help you to stay active, which typically lasts for around 8 weeks
- lung transplant in severe cases
It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about asbestosis.
In particular, if you worked with asbestos before the late 1970s, you should contact your doctor for advice. They will be able to carry out tests and advice on any necessary treatments.
To assist with diagnosing asbestosis, your doctor may take a full medical history and carry out a physical examination.
If they suspect asbestosis, they may also ask you questions about your exposure to asbestosis, such as:
- How long did you spend working with asbestos?
- What was the nature of the work you carried out?
- What products were you in contact with?
- Did you wear protective equipment during your work?
Your doctor may arrange for tests to help to confirm the cause of your symptoms. Possible tests they may carry out if they suspect asbestosis include:
- computed tomography scan
- chest X-ray
- lung function test
Your doctor will be able to explain to you what each test involves.
Unless you experience severe asbestosis, the condition may not directly impact your life expectancy.
However, having asbestosis increases your risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer. These can reduce your life expectancy.
It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about asbestosis. They can conduct tests to reach an accurate diagnosis.
Following diagnosis of asbestosis, your doctor will be able to recommend any necessary treatments to help with slowing down the progression of the condition.
Contact your doctor if you have concerns about asbestosis or cancer.
Having asbestosis increases your risk of conditions such as:
- pleural disease
- lung cancer
Receiving an accurate diagnosis and beginning treatment as early as possible can help reduce the risk of complications.
If you have worked with asbestos, it may not be possible to prevent asbestosis. It can take many years for symptoms to appear.
However, you can take steps to help reduce the severity of your symptoms, such as:
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- taking short rests during the day when needed
- ensuring you get enough sleep
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- washing your hands regularly to reduce the risk of infection
- getting your flu and pneumonia vaccines
- avoiding areas where air pollution and pollen counts are high
- not breathing in pollutants such as secondhand smoke, aerosol sprays, and traffic fumes
- preventing breathing in cold air by keeping your mouth covered when outdoors in winter
Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition. It typically occurs following the prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers. Asbestosis is often an occupational lung disease.
If you receive an asbestosis diagnosis, your doctor may recommend treatments such as oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation. Treatments focus on alleviating symptoms and slowing the condition’s progression.
Symptoms of asbestosis may not occur for 10–40 years following asbestos exposure. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about asbestosis. They can conduct tests to reach an accurate diagnosis.