This usually progresses slowly and can cause severe breathlessness. There is no known treatment to alter the progression of the disease. Asbestosis can take around 10 – 20 years from when you were first exposed to asbestos until it is detected.
There is usually a 10% chance of developing mesothelioma and a 20 – 50% chance of developing lung cancer (the commonest complication of asbestosis).
Smoking significantly increases your chances of developing lung cancer if you have asbestosis.
There are other conditions which can mimic asbestosis such as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis or Extrinsic Allergic Alveolitis (also known as bird fanciers lung), Carcoidosis or Rheumatoid Disease.
However the majority of people with asbestosis live with their disability all their lives and once it reaches a plateau it tends not to deteriorate further and they do not die from it.
Asbestosis – Diagnosis
There are many other conditions which are very similar to asbestosis and to make a diagnosis a doctor has to exclude these other conditions by looking into a number of areas.
- Discussing work history or other sources of exposure to asbestos
- A history of substantial exposure to asbestos
- Fibrosis visible on x-ray or CT scan
- Spirometry – air flow measurements
- Pulmonary function tests – more complex breathing tests measuring lung volumes and transfer of gas
- Crackles heard by the doctor when listening to the patient’s chest through a stethoscope.
- Shortness of breath which the breathing tests show to be the result of reduced lung volumes or reduced gas transfer or a combination of these (as opposed to reduced air flow)
- Relative stability or only gradual progression of symptoms over a period rather than rapid deterioration.