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Asbestos related lung disease: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About asbestos related lung disease

Asbestos related lung disease is not a single disease but a set of various diseases occurring as a result of exposure to a mineral named ‘asbestos’. Inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres may lead to respiratory diseases like pleural fibrosis, pleural effusion, asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Asbestos related lung disease: Incidence, age and sex

Asbestos related lung disease is not a very common occurrence in present times. It is usually seen in adults, who work in industries related to asbestos.

Signs and symptoms of asbestos related lung disease: Diagnosis

Inhalation of asbestos fibres may cause scarring, inflammation and in extreme cases malignancy of lungs and its lining called pleura. Symptoms of asbestos related lung disease may occur even years after discontinuation of exposure. Some of the common symptoms include cough with shortness of breath. Following are some asbestos related lung diseases with their specific symptoms:

  • Pleural fibrosis- Asbestos may cause thickening and fibrosis of pleura which is asymptomatic. It is generally an accidental diagnosis on chest x-ray.
  • Pleural Effusion- Collection of fluid in pleural cavity which lies between lung and chest wall, is termed as pleural effusion. A person may experience one sided chest pain or remain asymptomatic for a long time. It can be easily diagnosed on physical examination and confirmed by chest x-ray.
  • Asbestosis- This condition occurs when asbestos leads to scarring of lung tissues and may present with dry cough and breathlessness which augments on exertion.
  • Lung Cancer- When symptoms of asbestos related lung disease are ignored, it may progress to lung cancer. A person with lung cancer may experience persistent cough with sputum. Sometimes sputum may be streaked with blood. Shortness of breath, chest pain and loss of appetite are other associated features.
  • Mesothelioma- This is a rare malignant condition of lining of lungs called pleura cause chest pain and shortness of breath.

Causes and prevention of asbestos related lung disease

Asbestos related lung disease may be seen in individuals who have prolonged exposure to asbestos which is an industrial mineral used various projects like insulating pipes, making brakes, ships, boilers or cement. Asbestos fibres are very small and can be easily inhaled into air passages and lungs. This is mainly an occupational disease. Some of the high risk people include asbestos miners, shipyard workers, pipe fitters, electricians, railway workers and people working with boilers. Family members of such workers are also at high risk of developing the disease. Moreover it may also be seen in people who stay in areas with asbestos deposits in soil.

Such occupational disease may be prevented by taking measures like using protective equipment while working in high risk industries or replacing hazardous material like asbestos with other mineral which is safer. Individuals who carry a risk of asbestosis are advised for smoking cessation.

Asbestos related lung disease: Complications

Asbestos related lung disease may result in irreversible effects on the lungs. It may cause repeated lung infections or may even progress to fatal conditions like malignancy of lungs and/or the pleura.

Asbestos related lung disease: Treatment

Unfortunately, asbestos related lung disease is incurable. Consult a pulmonologist if one experiences respiratory symptoms, who may advice certain tests like chest x-ray and CT scan. The doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate the distressing symptoms and also help in delaying the progression of the disease. Oxygen therapy may be needed in later stages of disease. Excess fluid in pleural effusion can be drained by a procedure called thoracentesis. Malignant conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma may need surgical treatment along with anti-cancer medications and radiotherapy. Smoking cessation is very important since it may cause rapid deterioration of disease. Regular follow up is essential to modulate the treatment according to the progress of disease.