What should people in North Carolina know about asbestosis?

Caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, asbestosis is a lung disease that may affect people’s breathing and overall quality of life.

A natural mineral, asbestos is resistant to corrosion and heat, which made it a popular choice for products including cement, floor tiles and insulation in the past. While its use and handling has been strictly regulated since the 1970s, many workers were exposed to this toxic substance before that time. Years after breathing in asbestos fibers on the job, in their homes and in other places, people in North Carolina may develop potentially serious medical conditions such as asbestosis.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that is characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. When people are exposed to significant levels of asbestos over an extended period, the airborne fibers may become lodged within tiny sacs inside their lungs. As they breathe, those fibers may rub and dig in, causing fibrosis in the lungs. Eventually, the lung tissue may become so stiff that it can no longer expand and contract normally.

Risk factors

Generally, anyone who is exposed to asbestos in high levels for long enough may contract asbestosis. This, and other asbestos-related diseases, has a dose-response relationship. This means that as the concentration of asbestos breathed in increases and the duration of the exposure extends, so too does people's risk for developing asbestosis. While it may not cause it, smoking cigarettes has been shown to contribute to a faster progression of this disease.

The implementation of health regulations has helped reduce exposure to asbestos in on the job and in other places. Nevertheless, workers in certain industries may still be in danger. These include construction workers, auto and aircraft mechanics, electricians, railroad workers, asbestos miners and shipyard workers.

Common symptoms of asbestosis

People who develop asbestosis may experience a range of symptoms as a result of their conditions. In addition to chest pain and tightness, some of the most common of these include the following:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • A dry, crackling sound in the lungs
  • A dry, chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Clubbing of fingertips or toes

Typically, these and other symptoms associated with this lung disease do not manifest for between 10 and 40 years after people are initially exposed to asbestos. This may create challenges in diagnosing their conditions, as well as determining when they came in contact with the dangerous fibers.

Living with asbestosis

The damage caused by asbestos cannot be reversed. Thus, treatment is aimed at slowing the disease's progression and easing the associated symptoms. People may be prescribed medications or therapy to help ease breathing difficulties. In some cases, they may require supplemental oxygen or, in severe situations, a lung transplant. Following their diagnosis, people may need routine care, such as lung function tests and chest X-rays, to monitor their conditions.

When exposure to asbestos results in asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases for people in North Carolina, they may require extensive medical treatment, which may result in unanticipated costs. In some cases, their ability to work and provide for themselves and their families may also be compromised. Therefore, people who have developed asbestosis may find it helpful to seek legal counsel. An attorney may help them understand their options for pursuing financial compensation and trace the source of their exposure.