What is Asbestosis?

What is this Condition?

This lung condition is characterized by widespread filling and inflammation of the lung spaces with asbestos fibers. It can develop as long as 15 to 20 years after regular exposure to asbestos has ended. A potent cocarcinogen, asbestos aggravates the risk of lung cancer in cigarette smokers.

What Causes it?

Asbestosis is caused by the inhalation of small asbestos fibers. These fibers move in the direction of airflow and penetrate the breathing passages. Sources include the mining and milling of asbestos, the construction industry (where asbestos is used in a prefabricated form), and the fireproofing and textile industries. It has also has been used in the production of paints, plastics, and automobile brake and clutch linings.

Asbestos-related diseases develop in families of workers as a result of exposure to the fibrous dust shaken off workers’ clothing at home. Asbestosis also strikes people who are exposed to fibrous dust or waste piles from nearby asbestos plants.

Inhaled fibers become encased in a brown, protein like sheath rich in iron called ferruginous bodies or asbestos bodies found in sputum and lung tissue.

What are its symptoms?

The first symptom is usually shortness of breath on exertion, typically after 10 years’ exposure. As lung damage becomes more extensive, this increases, until eventually the person is short of breath, even at rest. Advanced disease also causes a cough, chest pain, recurrent respiratory infections, and rapid breathing.

Asbestosis may cause complications, such as an enlarged heart and pulmonary hypertension. Club-shaped fingers commonly occur.

How is it Diagnosed?

The persons history reveals occupational, family, or neighborhood exposure to asbestos fibers. A physical exam reveals characteristic, dry crackles at the bases of the lungs. An arterial blood gas test reveals a decreased oxygen level and a low carbon dioxide level. Finally, a chest X-ray and pulmonary function studies help diagnose this disease.

How is it Treated?

This disease can’t be cured. The goal of treatment is to relieve respiratory symptoms and, in advanced disease, to control the complications.

Respiratory symptoms may be relieved by chest physical therapy techniques such as controlled coughing. Aerosol therapy, inhaled mucolytics, and increased fluids (at least 3 quarts [3 liters] daily) may also help relieve respiratory symptoms. Diuretics, digitalis glycoside preparations, and salt restriction may be indicated for people with cor pulmonale. Oxygen deficiency requires oxygen administration by mask or by a mechanical ventilator. Respiratory infections require prompt administration of antibiotics.

What can a person with asbestosis do?

• To prevent infections, avoid crowds and persons with infections and receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccines .

• To improve your breathing, undergo physical reconditioning, conserve your energy in daily activities, and use relaxation techniques.

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