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Asbestosis – What Is It, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention.

Chest X-ray shows plaques in asbestosis 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is common for people employed in industries like construction, demolition, manufacture of asbestos products, and asbestos spraying to complain of shortness of breath, wheezing and other problems of the respiratory system. In the direst of cases, this prolonged exposure to asbestos leads to a disease called asbestosis that scars you for life, literally. 

What Is Asbestosis And What Causes It?

Asbestos is a fibrous material that is commonly used for insulating pipes and tanks, making tiles and other types of building materials. While not so much in use today, the material was employed extensively in the 1970s owing to its heat resistance and strength.

When asbestos gets damaged, its superfine fibers are released into the air. A person breathing this air will result in the fibers penetrating through lung tissues and causing inflammation in the area. When the immune system tries to attack the fibers, it only produces more inflammation and scarring of the region. This is known as fibrosis and can be caused by a number of mineral dust particles. As such, fibrosis caused from extended inhalation of asbestos fibers induces a lung disease known as asbestosis.

Who Can Get Affected With Asbestosis?

While it is individuals who are occupationally associated with asbestos on a daily basis that face the greatest risk of developing asbestosis, the disease can affect may other people too. For instance, an employee working in hazardous asbestos dust filled environment is likely to carry the dust home given that asbestos fibers cling on to clothing. Similarly, people involved in laundering of asbestos workers’ clothes can also get affected.

Asbestos exposure can also take place in homes where asbestos sheets are used in its construction. If there are too many cracked sheets and they are not replaced for years, then the members living in the house are at risk of developing asbestosis. 

The Symptoms And Other Consequences

Asbestos fibres - a single
fibre is believed to cause mesothelioma
Asbestosis as a condition does not really appear for a number of years. This is known as the buildup time after which the symptoms get exhibited in full force. The main symptom of asbestosis is shortness of breath, which initially shows up during physical exertion, but later it can be experienced even when the individual is resting. Other symptoms include tightness in the chest, coughing, chest pain and tiredness
Sometimes, the asbestos dust settles in the pleura (special membranes forming the lining around the lungs) thus thickening it in the process. When this thickening gets enhanced and spreads across the pleura, it restricts the expansion of lungs and makes it harder for the person to breathe.

Yet, another consequence of exposure to asbestos is Mesothelioma. A rare form of cancer, mesothelioma can occur in the pleura or peritoneum (tissues outlining the abdominal wall).
How Is Asbestosis Diagnosed?

In order for an experienced doctor to make a diagnosis of asbestosis, he/she has to first understand the patient’s history of exposure to the asbestos fiber and then examine the symptoms carefully. Later, evaluation data derived from lung function tests and chest X-rays help validate the initial diagnosis.

However, it takes a long time before lung damage occurs due to asbestosis. So, it is advisable to go for regular check-ups to the doctor especially if you have to deal with asbestos in your line of work on a customary basis.  

Treatment And Prevention

Unfortunately, asbestosis cannot be cured because once the micro fibers have lodged themselves into the much of the 60 million odd alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs, no amount of medication can undo the effect. However, doctors can prescribe drugs to relive some of the symptoms of the disease and improve the breathing mechanism. In some cases, patients are given oxygen for few hours every day to help with their breathing problems.

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