What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. There are several different types of asbestos, all part of a family of silica compounds, made up of long and thin fibrous crystals. Each tiny asbestos fiber is made up of microscopic fibrils that are capable of being released into the atmosphere by abrasion or other ways.
Asbestos was used for years as an electrical insulator and in building materials because of its heat resistance. However, after it was discovered that asbestos was a toxic substance capable of causing serious health effects when inhaled, it became illegal to use asbestos as a building material or for almost any other reason in 67 countries throughout the world, including the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization and the EPA have all classified asbestos as a human carcinogen.
There is a delay between exposure to asbestos and the development of health problems as a result of asbestos exposure. This delay can be anywhere between 10 and 40 years. It is estimated that there could be as many as 200,000 asbestos-related deaths in the United States alone by 2030. This figure could increase based on additional exposure to covid-19 or the coronavirus and its effect on damaged lung tissue.
How Are You Exposed To Asbestos?
Most people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace or in their homes. You may be exposed to asbestos if you work in a mine, mill or factory. Construction workers could also be exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Additionally, you could be exposed to asbestos if you live in a home where asbestos was used as a building material.
Why Is Asbestos Dangerous To You?
When fibers of asbestos are inhaled, they can cause damage to lung tissue in the form of scarring and inflammation. The scarring caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers ultimately acts to restrict breathing and interferes with the body’s ability to draw oxygen into the bloodstream.
Asbestos has been discovered to cause a variety of negative pulmonary health effects and asbestos-related lung diseases including lung damage like pulmonary fibrosis, also known as interstitial lung disease and lung cancer. In most cases, symptoms related to exposure to asbestos do not start to appear until approximately 20 years after exposure.
What Diseases Are Caused by Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestosis is the scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos fibers. People who develop asbestosis often suffer from slowly progressing shortness of breath and a persistent dry cough, typically many years after their exposure to asbestos. In non-smokers, the cough ordinarily presents as a dry cough without mucus or wheezing. Other common symptoms of asbestosis include clubbing, which is described as changes in the shape of the tips of the fingers and toes, or cyanosis, a blue tint to the fingers or lips. Some people experience weight loss from loss of appetite, chest tightness or chest pain, or even a crackling sound during normal breathing. Asbestosis can also lead to failure of the right side of the heart.
It is important when experiencing symptoms of asbestosis that medical professionals rule out other causes of lung scarring like pulmonary fibrosis. Additionally, smoking cigarettes can put you at a higher risk for the development of asbestosis and can contribute to the rapid progression of asbestosis.
In order to diagnose asbestosis, medical professionals look for abnormalities in breathing and obtain detailed health information to ascertain when a person was exposed to asbestos and the duration of the exposure. Doctors use lung function tests to determine if there is airflow obstruction or reduced lung inflation. Chest x-ray and ct scan abnormalities can also be present, indicating thickening of the pleura. Another method of diagnosis is by a biopsy of lung tissue to determine if there asbestos fibers inside the lungs.
Asbestos exposure can also result in damage to the pleura, the lining of the lungs often described as a thin sheet of tissue that wraps around the lungs and forms a lining to the inside of the chest cavity. As a result of damage to the pleura, fluid may collect around the lungs. This fluid buildup is called a pleural effusion. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, is another lung condition that can be caused by asbestosis. With COPD, patients experience difficulty breathing, cough, excess mucus production and wheezing.
There is not a cure for asbestosis but there are treatment options to mitigate the symptoms. Common treatment options include the use of prescription inhalers and supplemental oxygen. Lung transplants can be indicated in severe cases.
Malignant Mesothelioma or Pleural Mesothelioma
Asbestosis can also lead to malignant mesothelioma. In fact, exposure to asbestos is the only known risk factor for malignant mesothelioma. This type of cancer affects the pleura lining of the lungs and abdomen. This type of cancer is not associated with cigarette smoking. It takes usually more than 30 years between exposure to asbestos and onset of malignant mesothelioma, although anywhere from 20% to 40% of people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma do not have any prior asbestos exposure.
Symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to symptoms of asbestosis and can include shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, cough, weight loss and chest pain.
What if I was Exposed To Asbestos?
If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos for a period of more than ten years, it is recommended that you seek medical advice from a qualified medical professional. Typically, doctors suggest that you receive a chest x-ray every 3 to 5 years and follow proper safety procedures at work if you are still exposed to asbestos.
If you have already received a mesothelioma diagnosis or diagnosis of asbestosis, contact Hill and Ponton at 844-715-4289 to schedule your free consultation and learn if you are eligible to receive compensation as a result of your illness.