Asbestosis (as-bes-TOE-sis) is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Repeated exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung tissue scarring, which restricts lung function and results in shortness of breath. Asbestosis may lead to the following issues:
When exposed to high levels of asbestos dust over an extended period, some of the airborne fibers become lodged within the tiny alveoli sacs inside your lungs. The asbestos fibers damage the alveoli sacs, reducing your lung’s ability to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in your blood. The lungs form scar tissue in response to the inflammation and damage created by the asbestos fibers.
As asbestosis progresses, your lung tissue becomes so stiff that it cannot contract and expand normally, reducing your ability to breathe.
Smoking appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, and often results in a faster progression of the disease.
The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos can take 10 to 40 years to develop. Symptoms of asbestosis can vary in severity. Signs and symptoms may include:
Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are like many other types of respiratory diseases.
When evaluating respiratory symptoms, your doctor will discuss your health history, occupation, and exposure risk to asbestos. During a physical exam, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen carefully to your lungs to determine if they make a crackling sound while inhaling.
A variety of diagnostic tests may help pinpoint a diagnosis.
These tests provide a visual image of your lungs:
These tests determine how well your lungs are functioning. Pulmonary function tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs.
During the test, your doctor may ask you to blow as hard as you can into an air-measurement device called a spirometer. More complete pulmonary function tests can measure the amount of oxygen being transferred to your bloodstream.
In some situations, your doctor might take fluid and tissue samples for testing to identify asbestos fibers or abnormal cells. Tests may include:
There is no treatment to reverse the effects of asbestos on the alveoli. Treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease, relieving symptoms, and preventing complications.
If diagnosed with asbestosis, you will need routine follow-up care, such as chest X-rays or CT scans and lung function tests, at regular intervals depending on the severity of your condition.
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