What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that is caused by the lung tissue being scarred by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a general term that refers to a group of minerals which are made up of long fibres.

The three most common types are Chrysolite (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos) and Crocidolite (blue asbestos). Asbestos is extremely strong and is resistant to heat and chemicals, which is why it was a common material used in the 1950's up until the 1980's.

It was used in industries such as:

  • Insulation
  • Ship Building
  • Electricity Generation
  • Building and Construction

Read our guide to learn more about the different types of asbestos.

Causes of Asbestosis

If asbestos is disturbed, by drilling, chipping or breaking the surface, it can be very dangerous. This is because disturbed asbestos releases a fine dust that contains the asbestos fibres. When these fibres are breathed in, they enter the lungs and can cause disease. An individual must be exposed to asbestos fibres over a long period of time for asbestosis to develop.

There are also other factors which can contribute to the effect that asbestos exposure has on somebody, such as:

  • The type of fibre inhaled (white asbestos is the least harmful, then brown, and blue is the most harmful)
  • How much of the fibres have been inhaled
  • Whether the person is a smoker or not and whether the person has previous lung conditions

Symptoms of Asbestosis

Symptoms of asbestosis usually develop many years after an individual has been exposed to the asbestos. It can sometimes be as little as seven years, but can often be much longer (20-30 years).

The general symptoms one would develop are:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath

And in more advanced cases:

  • Swollen fingers (known as finger clubbing)

Diagnosis and treatment of Asbestosis

If your GP suspects that you have asbestosis, you will be referred to a specialist in lung disease. You will then undergo tests such as chest x-rays, CT scans and lung function tests, which will assist a specialist in his/her diagnosis.

There is currently no treatment available to cure asbestosis, but there are steps which can be taken to ease symptoms.

  • Stopping smoking
  • Vaccinations
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Medicines

The prognosis of asbestosis is that people can live for many years. However because the condition gets worse over time, people will need an increased amount of treatment as they age, in order for them to live as comfortable as possible.

Asbestos-related diseases

People who have asbestosis have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions and diseases, such as:

  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural disease - where the membrane that covers the lungs becomes thicker, resulting in breathlessness and chest pain
  • Mesothelioma - Also known as 'asbestos cancer', which is a type of cancer that affects the membrane that covers the heart, lungs and gut.

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