Exposure to asbestos increases one’s risk of lung damage and asbestosis, a kind of pulmonary fibrosis. Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers.
It is characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs, resulting in chest tightness and shortness of breath. Over time, asbestosis can lead to complications of heart disease, cancer, and respiratory failure. Although the disease cannot be cured, it can be treated with symptomatic treatment.
No Known Cure
Asbestosis can be treated but not cured. Asbestosis treatment focuses on managing symptoms of the disease and may include:
oral steroids may help to reduce symptoms.
supplemental oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation can help to reduce symptoms, maintain one's activity level, prevent some heart and lung complications, and improve quality of life.
quitting smoking can help improve prognosis.
surgical intervention can help to prevent lung collapse in severe cases of the disease.
when all other treatments have failed to provide symptom relief, lung transplantation may be an option.
Although asbestosis cannot be cured, it can be prevented by avoiding exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, once an individual is exposed to asbestos, there is no known way to prevent the disease from developing. Maximum survival after symptom onset is about 4 years.1
Asbestos is a mineral frequently used in the construction, shipbuilding, and automotive industries for its resistance to chemicals, heat, and fire, and its inability to conduct electricity. Given its significant health concerns, in 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency banned all new applications of asbestos. However, asbestos exposure is still one of the most common occupational hazards.
Everyone is exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air, soil, and water. However, it is prolonged, daily exposure to asbestos that most often leads to asbestosis.
Professions with the highest risk of exposure to asbestos include:
Mining and milling
Usually, it takes 10 to 40 years after exposure for symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to develop.2
Complications of Asbestosis
Potential complications of asbestosis include:
heart failure may develop secondary to scarring and compression of pulmonary vessels.
asbestosis is associated with the development of lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma, one of the deadliest diseases attributed to asbestos exposure.
as lung scarring worsens, lung expansion and oxygen diffusion are hindered, ultimately resulting in oxygen-deficient respiratory failure.