Asbestosis is a chronic illness, that involves breathing complications due to scar tissue buildup on the lungs. This condition is primarily caused from inhaling asbestos fibers, but is often not diagnosed until years or even decades after initial exposure. Many patients with asbestosis can trace back to when and where their exposure could have happened. In many cases, a person was exposed either in the work or home environment. It may take years of continuous exposure to asbestos, along with a latency period, until symptoms start to present themselves.
Q: Is there a cure for asbestosis?
A: There is currently no known cure for asbestosis. However, treatment can help alleviate the symptoms associated with this disease. Asbestosis diagnosis commonly requires an in-depth medical evaluation, testing, and occupational history assessment. Patients who are diagnosed now, may have been exposed prior to the 1970s, when the United States started to put restrictions on when this toxic material can be used.
Q: What are the symptoms of asbestosis?
A: As a person breathes in asbestos fibers, his or her lungs slowly start to build up scar tissue. This scarring forms around microscopic air sacs of the lung and eventually makes it difficult to the patient to inhale and exhale to full capacity. The lungs may stiffen, causing a coughing and a crackling sound. Oxygen flow to the blood is restricted, resulting in shortness of breath. The body relies on sufficient oxygen in order to live and for energy, so breathing challenges can lead to weight loss and profound fatigue. In summary, symptoms of asbestosis can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent dry cough
- Chest pain and tightness
- Loss of weight
- Poor appetite
- Extreme exhaustion (fatigue)
- Crackling or wheezing when breathing
Q: What can a person do to manage symptoms?
A: If you are experiencing symptoms related to asbestos exposure, see your doctor right away. Do not assume that you have an asbestos-related disease and try to treat it on your own. After you have talked with a doctor, he or she may suggest making improvements to lifestyle as a way to help manage symptoms:
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Staying hydrated
- Getting proper sleep every night
- Resting throughout the day
- Exercising regularly (but not overexerting)
- Preventing colds and flus through cleanliness and avoiding large groups of people when possible
- Avoiding areas that have a high level of air pollution
- Not smoking and avoiding being around those who are smoking
Q: What are the treatment options for asbestosis?
A: Asbestos is not a reversible illness, unless the patient undergoes a lung transplant. Other asbestosis treatment options can include things like supplemental oxygen, medications, and pulmonary rehabilitation. Medications can help thin lung secretions, allowing the patient to cough easier while alleviating chest discomfort. Portable oxygen can be used for patients with a decreased lung capacity. Pulmonary rehabilitation can aid people diagnosed with asbestos illnesses by helping them learn how to cope with breathing difficulties, and in what ways they can make positive lifestyle changes.