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Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that causes scar tissue formation throughout the pulmonary system. The scar tissue results from asbestos fibers permanently trapped in the lungs causing physical damage to cell membranes, resulting in lung tissue inflammation and cell division disruption.

What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is not cancer; however, it is a severe health condition that doesn't go away and often gets worse with time.

Its affects breathing and lung function in a way that can be managed but cannot be cured. It also increases the likelihood of developing mesothelioma and lung cancer in the future.

Fortunately, Asbestosis develops gradually, with a latency period of 12-60 years. Often, people with Asbestosis can live out their natural lifespan.

Causes of Asbestosis

The only medical cause of Asbestosis is exposure to Asbestos. Asbestos fibers are incredibly tiny particles that can easily be inhaled and travel to the lungs.

Even though Asbestos particles are small, they are also incredibly sharp and durable.

Because of natural body motion such as breathing and walking, these asbestos fibers move around and damage the lungs, causing Asbestosis development.

Contrary to popular belief, Asbestosis cannot be caused by smoking cigarettes or any other cause. It can only be medically linked to asbestos exposure.

However, cigarette smoking may increase the risk of retaining asbestos fibers in the lungs and result in a quicker disease progression. Smoking also causes additional stress on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

It is recommended that anyone with a diagnosis of Asbestosis avoid smoking.

Diagnosing Asbestosis

Asbestosis is sometimes misdiagnosed as idiopathic or diffuse pulmonary fibrosis. The physician is often not aware of Asbestos exposure history and has no other explanation for pulmonary fibrosis.

As with other asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, it can take decades for the disease to develop and be diagnosed.

Asbestosis can be caused by exposures from 12-60 years before diagnosis.

Asbestosis's early symptoms can be challenging to recognize because the disease has common problems such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, and weight loss.

Your doctor must be aware of any asbestos exposure you may have had (even as a child).

Any exposure to Asbestos can affect how your symptoms are treated and what type of testing is recommended.

Direct work exposures to asbestos-containing dust can cause Asbestosis. It can also come from indirect exposure to fibers that travel home on workers' clothing, hair, and skin.

Asbestosis can be diagnosed with a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) in combination with radiological images, such as chest X-rays or CT scans.

Chest images reveal the scarring pattern that Asbestos causes in the lung tissue. A PFT measures the effects Asbestosis has on breathing.

Pulmonary function tests can be performed in your doctor's office and involve breathing into a plastic tube of a machine that can record your lungs' intake and output.

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Asbestosis Treatments

Treatment for Asbestosis involves mainly observation and disease management. Since scar tissue is the injury mechanism, and scar tissue is irreversible - there is no cure for Asbestosis.

However, in many cases, combinations of bronchodilators (inhalers), oxygen, and physical therapy can slow the disease's progression.

Many patients can live with their Asbestosis for decades, and proper management of your Asbestos-related disease can alleviate symptoms and enable a better quality of life.

Sometimes the scarring of a lung or a lobe of the lung is so severe that it is surgically removed. In other rare situations, a lung transplant may be necessary; however, the process of getting approved for a lung transplant and being matched to donor tissue can take years.

Risks of Asbestosis

Another risk of Asbestosis is the increased risk of developing Mesothelioma or Asbestos Lung Cancer.

The diagnosis of Asbestosis alone is proof of significant asbestos exposure. The ongoing scarring and genetic damage to cells from Asbestos fibers can cause a cell to become malignant.

These malignant cells can form tumors and spread if the immune system does not quickly recognize the threat.

If you have scarring from Asbestosis, your doctor may have you follow up a few times a year to visualize any dense areas of scar tissue that could be suspicious for cancer.

A change in the shape or size of a spot on your lung (like a pleural plaque or granuloma) could result in the doctor recommending a biopsy for further examination.

Early detection of changes is beneficial for the treatment of Asbestosis and any form of asbestos-related cancer.

Asbestosis FAQ's‍

Can You Die From Asbestosis?

Yes, it is possible to die from  Asbestosis; however, this disease's prognosis is far better than Mesothelioma or Lung Cancer. Asbestosis is a disease in which the lungs become scarred due to years of exposure to Asbestos.

In the worst presentations, the lung scarring reaches a tipping point that prevents the lungs from exchanging oxygen. Patients can live with Asbestosis for decades.

Where Did I Get Asbestosis From?

Asbestosis is what is termed a "high dose" disease. It requires a high level of exposure to Asbestos dust over many years (even decades) to cause the amount of damage necessary to be diagnosed.

Many patients with Asbestosis were exposed to Asbestos occupationally on construction sites, industrial or manufacturing facilities, and shipyards. Navy Veterans also have a higher risk of Asbestosis than other professions.

Is There A Cure For Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is incurable and, over time, makes breathing more difficult. While treatments may alleviate symptoms, Asbestosis is a deadly disease and must be managed carefully. Additionally, those with Asbestosis are more likely to develop mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer in the future.

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Adrianne Andrus

Reviewed by:  Adrienne Andrus
Chief Editor of Flint Cooper
Client Advocate & Product Liability Paralegal since 2015.
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication, SIU Edwardsville

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