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Although many asbestos-containing materials have been banned, many people still suffer from the long-term effects of asbestos exposure. Some of these health effects arise from indirect causes. 

Asbestosis is the most common asbestos-related disease, and it is essential to be informed about it. Read on to get answers to questions such as what is asbestosis? And what is asbestos?

You can also learn more about the causes and symptoms of asbestosis, tests, treatments, outlook, and information sources. Other areas considered include risk factors, occupational risk, and prevention of asbestosis. Read on to learn more!

What Exactly is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease resulting in the scarring of the inner lung tissues and pleural membrane (the lining around the lung). It is a disease caused by exposure to asbestos dust. It occurs in people who have been breathing in asbestos dust for a long time.

Asbestos contains microscopic fibres released into the air when the cutting of asbestos or asbestos-containing material is cut. Breathing in Asbestos fibres can lead to eventual scarring and stiffening of the lungs when the inhaled fibres get trapped.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a term that refers to a group of minerals containing microscopic fibres. Undisturbed asbestos may not present a health risk. However, when a material containing asbestos is cut, drilled, broken, or begins to deteriorate, it can release fine dust containing asbestos fibres.

Causes of asbestosis

Asbestosis results explicitly from exposure to asbestos over long periods. However, a small amount of asbestos exposure can still be unsafe.

Symptoms of asbestosis

Asbestosis causes symptoms that are related to breathing. These symptoms can have a 10 to 20 years latency after exposure. That is to say, you may not see any signs until after this time. People with asbestosis can display the following symptoms:

  • Being short of breath 
  • Dry and crackling sounds occur when breathing.
  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clubbing of fingers
  • Loss of weight
  • Pulmonary hypertension is an advanced symptom of asbestosis. Scar tissue constricts arteries and makes the pumping of blood more difficult.

Asbestosis symptoms can be mild or severe and may take years to develop. Do not hesitate to request an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.

Testing For Asbestos

You may need to perform conclusive tests to diagnose asbestosis properly. Informing your doctor of a history of asbestos exposure can help prevent misdiagnosis of asbestosis as emphysema or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Here are some possible tests for diagnosing asbestosis:

  • Breath examination: To check for signs of asbestosis, like crackling sounds in the lower lung.
  • Lung function tests: Tests like spirometry and lung volume tests can be used to rule out other lung diseases like asthma.
  • Chest X-ray: Your doctor can check for lung scarring and other signs of asbestosis.
  • Chest CT Scans: These scans can do more to detect asbestosis than chest X-rays.
  • Assessment of risk of asbestos exposure: Your doctor may discuss your work with you to assess this risk.

Possible Treatment for Asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis because lung damage is irreversible. However, specific treatments can help you with your breathing and slow the progress of the disease. The following measures can be used to treat asbestosis: 

  • Medications that open the airways and improve breathing.
  • Improved lifestyles such as better exercise and a healthy diet.
  • New drug treatments which contain anti-fibrotic agents are being developed.
  • Oxygen therapy can help with air supply to the lungs.
  • Quitting smoking – people with asbestosis are more likely to develop lung cancer and other lung problems. Smoking also worsens the symptoms of asbestosis.
  • Surgery – This can be an option if you have severe symptoms.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation – You can join a lung health exercise program for lung conditions that includes regular vaccinations.
  • Palliative care – Your doctor may recommend palliative care options.
  • Lung transplantation – You may qualify for lung transplantation if your symptoms are severe or complicated by other lung diseases.
  • Thoracentesis – This noninvasive surgical procedure drains excess fluid around the lungs.

Outlook of Asbestosis

One step you can take if you have been diagnosed with asbestosis is to get informed and take certain precautions. The strain on your health can shorten your life expectancy. However, asbestosis has a slow progression rate.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos exposure can lead to various diseases, including different types of cancer, especially lung cancer, which develops in lung tissues. Other types of asbestos-related cancer include pleural mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer.

Pleural plaques are cancer that can develop as a result of asbestos exposure. Apart from asbestosis, other interstitial lung diseases result in inflammation and lung scarring. Pulmonary fibrosis can arise from asbestos fibres forming scar tissue within the lungs.

This is also referred to as pneumoconiosis and falls under the category of Occupational Lung diseases. Other Asbestos-related diseases Include Pleural effusions, Pleuritis, Diffuse pleural thickening, and COP.

Information Sources for People with Asbestosis

  • The American lung association: You can get help with quitting smoking.
  • Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum 

You can read up on asbestosis and mesothelioma on the following sites:

  • Lung Foundation Australia's website: You can learn about lung protection measures and get advice on exposure to asbestos dust.
  • The website - Health and safety executive (HSE): am I at risk?: It contains information on the risk of asbestos exposure.
  • The British Lung Foundation website contains information on getting compensation for asbestos exposure.
  • There are free mesothelioma guides online with information on treatment options and support for asbestos diseases. 

Risk Factors for Developing Asbestosis

The following factors can increase the risk of developing asbestosis:

  • The amount and level of concentration of asbestos
  • Length of time you are exposed to asbestos
  • The type of asbestos fibres
  • The size and shape of asbestos fibres
  • Health factors including a history of lung diseases or smoking
  • Genetic factors can increase your risk of the disease.

Occupational Risk of Asbestosis

If you live or work in areas that may contain asbestos, you must take measures to reduce your risk of inhaling asbestos fibres. You would also be reducing your risk of asbestosis. According to Safe Work Australia, several professions and industries exposed people to asbestos. 

The exact quantity of employees exposed to asbestos in Australia cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy due to a lack of data.

However, between 1945 and 2015, around 16,800 people in Australia had a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Nevertheless, only a few of these instances are the consequence of occupational exposure, so this number excludes other illnesses brought on by asbestos exposure.

If you work in any of the following occupations, you need to consider the health effects and take the necessary measures:  

  • Asbestos miners
  • Building construction workers who have worked with asbestos, such as work involving pipe lagging, roofing, and insulation.
  • You can be indirectly exposed to asbestos if your loved one or relative brings it home from work. Their clothing may contain asbestos.
  • Power station, pier, or shipyard workers.

Prevention of Asbestosis

It is essential to learn about the best ways to prevent asbestosis. Learn more about occupational exposure to asbestos and read up on regulations for asbestos in the workplace. This information is available online from the Australian Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA).

Another measure to prevent asbestosis is to perform necessary testing and remove asbestos-containing materials. You need a licensed asbestos abatement company to do this. 

Get Help With Asbestos-Related Matters

After reading up on what asbestosis is, the causes and symptoms, the possible treatments, and asbestos-related diseases, you may need more local help. An asbestos abatement company can help you with testing and removing asbestos.

However, you can get support from Cancer Council and Safe Work Australia if you live with asbestosis. They can advise you on protecting your lungs and what to do if you have suffered long-term asbestos exposure.