Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by asbestos fibers that are trapped in the inner layers of the lungs. Not to be confused with mesothelioma, asbestosis is not a type of cancer and requires different treatments and palliative care.
In the beginning stages of asbestosis, scar tissue forms in the lungs. This is called “fibrosis.” This scar tissue then builds-up over time and reduces the lung’s ability to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide. This impairment of lung function can sometimes add extra strain the heart, and it can even cause heart disease.
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Inflammation is often the first sign of asbestos exposure, and it starts within hours or days after asbestos fibers are inhaled. These fibers can damage cells in a person’s lungs, causing severe inflammation. The inflammatory process can continue, even when asbestos exposure has been eliminated.
The inflammatory process of asbestosis may go undetected for decades causing no pain or respiratory symptoms. In many people, the process eventually produces breathing abnormalities and radiographic changes. Usually, the first symptoms are shortness of breath and a dry cough. These symptoms often precede abnormalities on chest x-ray or pulmonary function tests. The period between exposure and diagnosis may range from 10 to 50 years.
Symptoms of Asbestosis
The initial symptoms of asbestosis can be shortness of breath or a dry cough. These symptoms may not manifest immediately, and not unlike the symptoms associated with mesothelioma, a patient may not be diagnosed with, or experience symptoms of asbestosis for years after the initial exposure.
No current treatments can cure asbestosis. Instead, doctors aim to improve a patient’s quality of life. These palliative care treatments could include surgery, medicines or alternative treatment methods.