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What is asbestosis?

Many North Carolinians are aware that asbestos can cause several diseases that afflict the lungs, but they are often unaware of the symptoms or effects of these diseases. We have written at length in other posts about pleural mesothelioma, an especially virulent form of lung cancer that is caused almost exclusively by asbestos product exposure. In this post, we will explore another asbestos-caused disease - asbestosis.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that is caused by prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they frequently lodge in the tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Alveoli exchange airborne oxygen for carbon dioxide in the blood stream. Asbestos fibers can irritate and scar the lung tissue. The resulting scar tissue causes the lungs to stiffen, making breathing difficult. In the normal progression of asbestosis, the scarring of lung tissue increases to an extent where the lungs cannot expand and contract normally.

Common symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough, loss of appetite and weight loss, widening of toes and fingertips (called clubbing) and chest tightness or pain. These symptoms do not appear until 10 to 40 years after initial exposure to asbestos. Three types of tests are commonly used to diagnose asbestosis: chest x-ray, CT scan or pulmonary function test. Asbestosis cannot be cured. Instead, physicians concentrate on slowing the progression of the disease and alleviating its symptoms. Supplemental oxygen is a common treatment. In extreme cases, lung removal or a lung transplant may be considered.

Anyone exhibiting the symptoms of asbestosis should seek a medical diagnosis. If the diagnosis is positive for asbestos (or any of the other asbestos-related diseases), the patient may wish to consult an attorney specializing in asbestos product liability claims for advice on whether to seek damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain suffering from the manufacturers of the asbestos products that caused the disease.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Asbestosis," accessed on Sep. 19, 2016

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