What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a lung disease that currently has no cure. Characterised by a diffuse pulmonary fibrosis, more commonly known as a scarring of the lung tissues, it is caused by the inhalation of excessive amounts of asbestos fibres.

Simply put, asbestosis is where there is a slow growth of scar tissue that snakes its way across the lungs like a spider’s web. Eventually the extent of the scarring has a strangling effect on the lungs, meaning they can’t expand and contract normally.

Symptoms

Asbestosis can be symptomatic and may not be visible on a chest x-ray or CT scan. Often it can only be detected on samples of the lung cells and tissues. If there are symptoms then they will include the following:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Blood in the sputum/mucus
  • Swelling in the neck or face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nail deformities

Unfortunately, asbestosis can remain dormant for years and symptoms may not start to appear until around 20 years after exposure. By this time the disease will have had the opportunity to spread and worsen in severity.


Prognosis

Asbestosis is not a form of cancer so, unlike mesothelioma, the prognosis of asbestosis can often be relatively positive. Sufferers of the disease have gone on to live for years and decades in some cases.

However, it must be considered that asbestosis is a condition that will worsen over time and patients are likely to require increased treatment as they get older.

A positive asbestosis prognosis can be delivered if it is a minor case of the disease. Treatments such as postural drainage and chest percussion can be used to improve breathing by loosening mucus build up around the lungs. Minor fluid build ups can also be drained at semi-regular intervals to help provide relief from chest pain.

A negative prognosis of asbestosis will require more intensive treatment. The severity of the scarring on the lungs will impact their capacity and this can lead to more severe breathing problems.

Because asbestosis itself is non-malignant it is not directly fatal, although the secondary conditions it can bring about do have the potential to cause death. For example, the heart must work harder to push blood through damaged lungs and this can lead to heart failure, while reduced lung capacity can lead to congestive heart failure.


Survivability

The survival rate of asbestosis is impacted by a multitude of things. The age, race, gender and lifestyle of the sufferer can all have an impact on how long a person can survive with asbestosis for.

It is important to remember that although the disease is incurable, patients are still able to live for many years with the help of medication and treatments. Sufferers of asbestosis can still have a fulfilling life, but it is the scarring of the lung tissue that can damage things beyond repair.


Asbestosis treatments

Unfortunately asbestosis is not a curable disease as it is not possible to repair scarred lung tissue. Despite this, there are a number of palliative treatments available that can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.

Treatments for asbestosis:

Medication:

There are a number of medications available as asbestosis treatments. Inhalers are one of the most commonly prescribed. Although more regularly used by asthma sufferers, inhalers can relax the airway muscles for a patient and provide some pain relief.

Other medications are available to thin secretions in the lungs, opening up the airways and allowing for easier breathing, while antibiotics can also be administered to ease pain and prevent infection. Supplemental oxygen is also an option as it helps with breathing by getting more oxygen into the lungs.

Vaccinations:

When suffering from asbestosis, the lungs are often more susceptible to infection. Vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia can help prevent these infections taking hold, giving the sufferer a better quality of life.

Surgery:

In some cases doctors may recommend surgery to treat asbestosis. The goal of asbestosis surgery is often palliative, designed to provide pain relief and relieve symptoms. Some surgeries will simply drain excess fluid from the lungs, making it easier for the patient to breathe.

Oxygen therapy:

When severe asbestosis takes over a person’s body may not get all the oxygen it needs to function properly. In these cases an oxygen concentrator can be used to provide oxygen therapy, this is a treatment that is often recommended by medical professionals when there are low levels of oxygen in the blood.

The oxygen-rich air is breathed through a mask or a tube entering the nostrils and will oxygenate the blood.

Not smoking:

Smoking only serves to make the symptoms of breathlessness worse and it is therefore highly recommended that asbestosis sufferers refrain from smoking. Smoking also significantly increases the risk of lung cancer as well as worsening the asbestosis so not smoking is highly recommended.