Asbestosis is a chronic condition which is classified as a type of pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs). The scarring occurs when fibres contained in asbestos materials are breathed in and accumulate in the lungs – this scarring is caused by the body attempting to repair itself from the asbestos fibre damage, resulting in scar tissue replacing normal lung tissue which then causes respiratory problems.
The following guide will explain the symptoms of asbestosis – while there is no cure, if treated pro-actively, discomfort can be alleviated and people can go on to live for many years.
Symptoms of Asbestosis
When asbestos fibres are breathed in, they lodge themselves in the body’s lung tissue. Over time, this causes the lungs to become irritated, inflamed and scarred, leading to a number of health issues. In most asbestosis patients, symptoms develop within 20 to 30 years after asbestos fibre exposure.
While the frequency and severity of asbestosis symptoms varies somewhat in patients, these are the health difficulties which present themselves because of respiratory impairment:
• blood in the saliva and mucous that is coughed out,
• crackling sound when breathing,
• difficulty swallowing,
• high blood pressure,
• hyper tension,
• finger deformity,
• loss of appetite and weight,
• shortness of breath,
• swelling in the neck or face.
Many of these symptoms are also found in people who have developed pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lungs caused by asbestos fibre inhalation), lung cancer in general and pneumonia.
Asbestosis Symptoms Explained
When the lungs become inflamed and scarred from inhaling asbestos fibres, a patient will experience regular shortness of breath, coughing and fatigue. This is because the lungs gradually lose their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, which impairs their capacity to function properly.
As asbestosis progresses, increasing stress is placed on the lungs and heart as they struggle to get enough oxygen.
Pleural (lung) thickening develops over time because the scar tissue increases, and a build-up of fluid between the chest wall and the lungs (pleural effusion) can also occur. This constricts the movement of the lungs and later the heart even further, which results in shortness of breath and more fluid build-up.
A chain reaction of problems is brought into play with asbestosis. The lungs are prevented from fully oxygenating blood, forcing the heart is to work harder. This increases blood pressure, causing fluid to build up around the heart and lungs, which leads to swelling of the neck and face as well as difficulty swallowing.
Additionally, fluid build-up can occur in the abdomen. This causes bloating and/or tenderness, leading to a loss of appetite and weight loss. In extreme cases, if left untreated, the fluid retention also results in a type of finger deformity known as clubbing.
Treating Asbestosis Symptoms
While there is no cure for asbestosis, a number of methods have been developed to ease the symptoms. These include lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating healthier and mild exercise. Doctors will prescribe medications to alleviate the pain, prescribe inhalers and supplemental oxygen to help patients breathe more effectively and in serious cases an operation will be suggested.
In addition, pulmonary rehabilitation helps people over the long term. This involves learning new breathing strategies, exercise techniques and ways to manage stress such as meditation and yoga. This route has shown promising results in helping asbestosis sufferers boost their energy levels and improve their overall quality of life.
For a full overview on the medical treatments that are available, read our guide titled Treating Asbestosis.
Asbestosis can be managed fairly effectively if it is diagnosed before progressing to a very advanced stage, although because the condition gets worse over time, patients will need increased treatment. If you are suffering from number of the symptoms listed in this guide, please visit your GP without delay.