Asbestosis is a harmful lung condition that is developed in people who have inhaled asbestos dust and fibres. When someone inhales the dust, the microscopic asbestos fibres settle in the lungs, where they may cause permanent lung damage as well as chronic breathing symptoms. The fibres aren’t able to release themselves from the organs inside as they are sharp tiny shards that stick to your lungs for a lifetime.
One of the unusual things about asbestosis is the long wait between asbestos exposure and the resulting illness. For many people they may have been exposed to it at one particular time in their lives or careers and were not diagnosed until 15-30 years later. It does not show up in any kind of test results immediately.
Once someone develops asbestosis, no cures are currently available. Breathing problems will get steadily worse, and in about 15% of people, severe shortness of breath and respiratory failure develop. For someone who smokes and has had asbestos exposure, there is a greatly increased chance of developing lung cancer. Symptoms may appear within 10 years of the initial exposure. OH&S has recommended testing in homes built up to the year 2000 now as asbestos is being found in buildings built even in the 1990’s.
Lung transplantation is the only way to manage end-stage asbestos lung disease, and most people who need it are not eligible candidates because of their advanced age or due to other medical problems.
Worsening in your breathing occurs as asbestosis progresses. Cough, sputum production, and wheezing are less common and are generally associated with smoking. You may display what is known as clubbing of the fingertips (they thicken and enlarge), or develop a blue colour under your nails and a bluish tinge around your mouth.
Even brief exposure to asbestos at some time in the past will dramatically increase the risk of developing lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma (a rare, fatal cancer of the lining of organs such as the lungs, abdomen, and chest).
Some research has also shown that asbestos causes an increased risk of developing cancers of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, and rectum. This may be related to the swallowing of asbestos fibres that were inhaled and then coughed up from the lungs. If you are a smoker who has been exposed to asbestos over the long term, your likelihood of developing lung cancer is greatly increased. It appears that there is a “dose-response relationship” between asbestos exposure, smoking, and lung cancer: the greater the exposure to both asbestos and cigarette smoke, the higher the risk of cancer. It’s already proven the health risks of smoking and the links to cancer but the chances increase 80% when exposed to asbestos. Researches at the University of Michigan believe that it is from tar build up in the lungs and holding the fibres in place, then coughing up the fibres to be spread throughout the body.