Asbestosis (a-BE-uh-sis) is an acute lung infection caused by inhaled asbestos fibers. Asbestosis symptoms generally do not appear until several years after long-term exposure and can range from mild to serious. Asbestos is an organic mineral compound that is resistant to fire and heat.
When inhaled, asbestos fibers become trapped in the lungs, where they stay for years, causing asbestosis or lung cancer. Although some individuals are exposed to higher levels of asbestos than others, asbestosis is generally not caused by increased asbestos exposure. In fact, most cases of asbestosis occur when someone is exposed to low levels of the mineral itself. For this reason, symptoms usually appear later in life, usually after long-term exposure to asbestos.
Short-term asbestosis is generally thought to be harmless, but anyone who has suffered from it knows differently. Short-term exposure to asbestosis results in an asbestosis symptom known as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Long-term exposure results in mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. Symptoms of asbestosis may also include asbestosis pleura, which is a whitish tissue that forms in the chest cavity. Other asbestosis symptom symptoms include lumps or growths in the neck, armpit, or groin area, fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, and scarring.
The most common way in which asbestos is used today is as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, roof shingles, and fireproofing. Anywhere asbestos is present, it is extremely dangerous because asbestos fibers cling to the body. When enough fibers are bonded to the body, death can occur very quickly – within days. Asbestosis affects people in many different ways, depending on the amount of time they have been exposed and how much of the body has been exposed. Even young children can suffer from asbestosis, if they are exposed to asbestos as their parents or other family members were exposed.
High levels of exposure to asbestos products such as ceiling tiles and roof shingles are the most common causes of asbestosis. However, asbestosis can occur in any place that contains high levels of asbestos, including rooms where ceiling tiles and roof shingles are installed and even attics and basements where demolition work is being done. To determine if you have been exposed to high levels of asbestos, you should contact your doctor. After testing your blood samples and determining that there is no abnormality with your blood, your doctor will be able to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos products.
People who have been exposed to a high level of asbestos may exhibit asbestosis symptoms. The most common symptom is asbestosis. Other symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pains and lung failure. These symptoms, however, do not always point to asbestosis. Sometimes these other respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can mimic the symptoms of asbestosis.
The most accurate way to diagnose asbestosis is to undergo a lung function test called spirometry. This test measures the amount of air and gas exchange that takes place in the lungs when a patient inhales and exhales. The spirometry test will also determine the amount of protein (protein dust) that is in the patient’s lung tissues. High levels of protein in the lungs are indicative of long-term asbestosis exposure.
X-rays may also be used to diagnose asbestosis. A small camera attached to an instrument is placed near the lungs. Radio waves and ultraviolet rays from the camera are sent to the lungs through the x-ray tube. The resulting images will allow doctors to see whether or not the asbestos fibers are entering the lungs. Chest x-rays may also be used to investigate the lungs for asbestosis. However, these tests are not as conclusive as the spirometry test.