Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 27, 2012)
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory lung condition that results from inhaling asbestos fibers. Some of the people at greatest risk of developing asbestosis are asbestos miners. Manufacturers and construction workers are also at risk for asbestosis because asbestos was widely used as a building material for a number of years due to its durability and strength. In the construction industry, for example, it was added to concrete to make it stronger, and as material for providing insulation and soundproofing.
Even though the use of asbestos as a building material has fallen out of vogue in recent decades, construction workers who are working on older buildings are still at risk of inhaling asbestos fiber. People with older homes who undertake remodeling projects are also in danger because asbestos fibers can be released into the air as ceilings and walls are torn up.
The main symptom of asbestosis is a noticeable and prolonged shortness of breath. This happens because an immune reaction is triggered as asbestos fibers are inhaled and settle into the lungs. Because the body is unable to dissolve or otherwise dispose of these fibers, swelling and inflammation occurs and continues until fibrous masses are formed. Fluid will also build up in the lining around the lungs as a result of inhaled fibers.
Over time, the walls of the lung cavity thicken and the elasticity of the lungs is greatly decreased. This makes it harder for the lungs to fully expand to draw in air, which causes the shortness of breath and a lack of oxygen in the blood stream. A loss of elasticity in the lungs also decreases a person's ability to exhale, which leads to a buildup of carbon monoxide. As asbestosis develops, plaque can build up in the space between the chest walls and the lungs.
Other symptoms of asbestosis may include blood in the phlegm, chest pains, tightening in the chest, loss of appetite, and weight loss. In very severe cases of asbestosis, heart failure can occur.
There is not a treatment that can cure asbestosis. Doctors can only recommend treatments that will help with the symptoms, such as at-home oxygen therapy to alleviate shortness of breath. If a significant amount of fluid has built-up around the lungs, a special surgical procedure called thoracentesis may be performed that removes fluid through a needle that is inserted into the lining around the lungs.
Because asbestosis is such a debilitating disease without many treatment options, exposure to large quantities of asbestos should be avoided at all costs. If you yourself, or someone you know, is at risk for asbestosis, a doctor should be consulted for a chest x-ray to determine is asbestosis has set in.
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