You may have heard about how workers exposed to asbestos have a high chance of developing the lung cancer known as mesothelioma. However, in some cases, you may develop asbestosis instead. As with mesothelioma, asbestosis affects your lungs, and can make it hard to breathe. If you would like to learn more about asbestosis, keep reading.
What Causes Asbestosis?
Asbestosis is not cancer, but it is a chronic lung disease that is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was once commonly used in many building materials, including those used by the armed forces. While asbestos has amazing insulating properties, it also contains small fibers that can pose serious health risks when they become airborne.
Workers breathe in these fibers, and they get trapped in the lungs. Overtime, this leads to scarring in the lungs, which prevents them from expanding and contracting easily and makes breathing harder.
What Are the Symptoms of Asbestosis?
The leading symptom of asbestos is difficulty breathing. One reason this happens is due to pleural thickening. As the asbestos fibers irritate the pleura (membrane lining the lungs), which causes it to thicken. The thicker it becomes, the harder it is for your lungs to comfortably stretch when you inhale. In severe cases, it can lead to chest pain and dyspnea.
Another factor that may make it hard to breathe is pleural effusion. Pleural effusion occurs when fluid buildups between the chest wall and the lungs, which also makes it hard to breathe. As the condition worsens, it can also affect how the heart expands and contracts with each beat.
Fatigue is another major symptom of asbestosis because you're body isn't getting enough oxygen. Without enough oxygen, your body naturally becomes weak and fatigued, and if left untreated, the organ stress could lead to lung and/or heart failure.
Other symptoms of asbestosis may include a persistent dry cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, clubbing of the fingertips and toes, chest tightness, and chest pain.
How Is Asbestosis Treated?
Asbestosis has no cure, but there are many treatments to help reduce the symptoms and make breathing easier. First, doctors may suggest medications like bronchodilators, which are commonly used for people with asthma. These help open up the airways so you can inhale more air at once.
Some medications help thin secretions so the mucous in your lungs isn't too thick, which can make breathing easier. Other medications that may be used include antibiotics and pain medications. Some patients may actually need a supplemental oxygen tank. Anti-inflammatory medications, however, do not tend to work because the problem is caused by scarring rather than inflammation.
If medication doesn't relieve symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery. Thoracentesis is a procedure usually used to help diagnose asbestosis, but it can also help relieve some symptoms by removing the fluid trapped between the lungs and the chest wall.
Finally, if you have severe symptoms, you may need a lung transplant. Lung transplants are not always effective, and you'll need to undergo a lot of tests before your doctor can determine if you are a good candidate for a lung transplant.
Some patients also turn to alternative treatments to help relieve some pain associated with asbestosis, including acupuncture, massage, homeopathic medicine, herbal medicine, and nutrition. Finally, if you smoke, stop. Smoking can worsen the symptoms of asbestosis., and asbestosis increases your risk of developing lung cancer in the future.
Asbestosis has no cure, but there are treatments to help reduce the symptoms and improve breathing. People who have been exposed to asbestos for long periods of time may start to develop symptoms years down the road. If you would like to know more about asbestosis or mesothelioma, contact us at The Veteran's Asbestos Alliance today.