People often get confused between Mesothelioma and Asbestosis. However, they are two totally different conditions arising due to the same cause i.e. asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is the deadliest type of cancer known, whereas asbestosis is a non-cancerous, chronic lung ailment, details of which are described in this article.
What is Asbestosis
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory lung disease caused by asbestos exposure (inhalation). In asbestosis the parenchymal tissue of the lungs gets scarred, causing dyspnea (difficulty in breathing) and in more advanced cases leads to lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Breathing microscopic asbestos fibers over a period of time lodge these fibers firmly into the lungs, leading to lung scarring and a drastic reduction in breathing capacity.
As with mesothelioma, the signs and symptoms of asbestosis appear years after asbestos exposure, and once detected, the condition of the patient will worsen drastically, leading to permanent disability and even death.
What is Asbestos
Asbestos is a class of minerals appearing naturally as thin separable fibers. It consists of two groups: chrysotile and amphibole. Amphibole asbestos have straight needle-like fibers and consist of actinolite, anthophylite, amosite, crocidolite, and tremolite. Chrysotile is the asbestos variety that was/is most used in commercial applications.
Asbestos has been mined for long, with increased use since the 1800s. Due to certain known properties of asbestos such as excellent heat resistance, excellent fire resistance, excellent chemical resistance, and an excellent non-conductor of electricity, it was used widely since the 1940s right through the 80s. It was in the 80s that asbestos use in many commercial applications was banned. Asbestos was used in floor tiles, roofing, insulation material, pop ceilings, switch boards, paints, insulation for ship boilers and hot water pipes, in clutch and brake-liners of all vehicles, and in host of other applications.
The ill-effects of asbestos inhalation were well-known from a very long time, but it was banned in almost all products in the late 80s due to a sudden increase in asbestos related diseases.
Who is at Maximum Risk?
Those at a maximum risk of asbestosis are people exposed to asbestos over long periods of time. Those working in asbestos mines are at a greater risk. Others who are at a risk of asbestosis are those living in the surroundings of asbestos mines, construction workers, shipyard workers, clutch and brake-liner workers and mechanics, and all those who have had asbestos exposure at work. Even their family and friends are at a risk.
Today asbestos is banned in almost all products and handling of old asbestos is regulated. Even with all precautions taken, individuals even today are at a risk as while renovating their homes they may get exposed to asbestos in the flooring, roofing, and insulation of the buildings.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of asbestosis could take in between 20 to 40 years to develop and surface. Combined with this problem, most of the symptoms of asbestosis overlap with signs and symptoms of other ailments such as asthma or bronchitis. All this makes the detection of asbestosis very difficult.
Asbestosis could have one or more of the following symptoms.
— Difficulty breathing, with the condition getting worse over a period of time
— Constant dry, crackling sound while breathing
— Getting tired after doing very little physical work
— Constant mild to severe pain in the chest
— Constant cough
Asbestosis is usually detected when it has caused considerable damage. This damage will now not only be limited to the lungs but also spread to other organs of the body.
Complications caused due to asbestosis could include one or more of the following.
— Lung cancer
— Increased blood-pressure within the lungs
— Heart complications
It has been observed that heavy smokers who have been detected with asbestosis are at a great risk of developing lung cancer. This happens due to the decreased capacity of the lungs combined with the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.
Increased Blood-pressure in Lungs
The scars caused by asbestos fibers lodged within the lungs will over time compress the lungs blood vessels. This in turn causes a high blood-pressure in the lung arteries known as pulmonary hypertension.
The increased blood-pressure in the lungs over time could lead to the enlargement and failure of the heart’s right ventricle which pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs.
Asbestosis takes approximately 20 to 40 years after initial asbestos exposure to surface. By this time the thin asbestos fibers could travel to the outer lining of the lungs (pleura) where it can cause cancer known as mesothelioma. This is the worst type of cancer known, usually leading to death within 12 to 18 months after diagnosis. Mesothelioma could affect the lining of the lungs, stomach, or heart.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma are two totally different diseases with the same cause (asbestos exposure) and should not be confused with each other.
Treatment of asbestosis could contain one or more of the following.
— Stopping smoking
In asbestosis, the condition and capacity of the lungs deteriorate to a great extent. Even a minor cold or a bout of flu could create severe complications. It is very important to make sure that any ailment (however minor) concerning the lungs should be avoided. It is for this purpose the physician may give the patient vaccines for flu and pneumonia.
Pulmonary hypertension will almost always be a part of asbestosis. This complication is dealt with medication that helps in expanding the blood vessels. Blood thinners could also be prescribed to make sure that no blood clots are caused which can block the narrowed vessels.
Stop Smoking if Diagnosed with Asbestosis
It is very crucial to quit smoking (in reference to only those who smoke) if diagnosed with asbestosis. The reduced capacity of the lungs combined with cigarette smoke make for the perfect combination and highest risk of lung cancer. Smoking will also further reduce the capacity of the lungs making it very difficult to breathe.
Do not make something as grave as asbestosis a reason to quit smoking. Giving up smoking is a good idea (for you, more so for those around you), even if you are perfectly healthy at present.