Asbestosis is a fibrotic or scarring condition of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos dust, particles and fibers that are breathed in and lodged into the delicate tissue of the lungs. No other cause of asbestosis has been found, and no cure exists for the disease. It generally takes 20 to 50 years for symptoms of asbestosis to appear in an individual that has been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos fibers inhaled deep into the lung become lodged in the tissue, eventually resulting in diffuse alveolar and interstitial fibrosis, also known as scarring. The fibrosis tends to progress even after exposure ceases. This fibrosis can lead to:
Reduced lung volumes,
Decreased lung compliance,
Impaired gas exchange,
Restrictive pattern of impairment,
Obstructive features due to small airways disease, and
Progressive exertional dyspnea with an insidious onset.
Asbestosis is characterized by the following radiographic changes: fine, irregular opacities in both lung fields (especially in the bases) and septal lines that progress to honeycombing and sometimes, in more severe disease, obscuration of the heart border and hemi-diaphragm – the so-called shaggy heart signs. Radiographic changes depend on the
Intensity of exposure.
Who Gets Asbestosis?
Prior to the 1980’s, asbestos was used frequently in maritime, construction, commercial and industrial settings, like oil refineries, shipyards and automobile repair facilities. Men and women who worked for a company that used asbestos containing materials for any prolonged period of time are most likely to be diagnosed with asbestosis, as are members of their family who came into contact with asbestos fibers through activities like washing the employee’s clothing.
How Is Asbestosis Diagnosed?
Symptoms of asbestosis mirror those of mesothelioma, and may not be noticeable in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, and pain in the chest. A confirmed diagnosis of asbestosis is achieved through similar testing that is used to detect mesothelioma, including pulmonary function tests, clinical examinations, imaging scans like x-rays and CT scans, and biopsies.
Asbestosis has no unique pathognomonic signs or symptoms, but diagnosis is made by the constellation of clinical, functional, and radiographic findings as outlined by the American Thoracic Society [American Thoracic Society 2004]. These criteria include:
Sufficient history of exposure to asbestos,
Appearance of disease with a consistent time interval from first exposure,
Clinical picture such as insidious onset of dyspnea on exertion, bibasilar end-inspiratory crackles not cleared by coughing,
Exclusion of other causes of interstitial fibrosis or obstructive disease such as usual interstitial pneumonia, connective tissue disease, drug-related fibrosis [American Thoracic Society 2004; Khan et al. 2013].
What Is the Prognosis, and Are Treatments Available?
The prognosis for men and women with asbestosis varies widely. Although asbestosis cannot be cured at this point in time, many people live with the condition for years. In some cases, breathing treatments and certain medications can help increase the patient’s comfort and allow them to live active, satisfying lives.
What Do I Do If Myself or a Loved One Have Been Diagnosed With Asbestosis?
Although the outcome is much better for asbestosis than mesothelioma, it is still a critical disease that will need to be adequately managed for the rest of the patient’s life. Treatment for asbestosis can be costly, and often insurance doesn’t cover the specialized medications or surgical procedures that are needed. If you or your loved one came into contact with asbestos fibers through your line of work or in the military, you may be eligible for compensation or medical benefits.
Attorney Stephen Healy has worked with families that have been affected by asbestosis and mesothelioma for years, and is able to bring unique skill and dedication to your case. He will explore all potential sources of medical care and financial restitution, and will provide you and your loved ones with the guidance you need to effectively manage your disease.
Contact Attorney Healy today for a consultation by calling (707) 772-5496.