Exposure to asbestos can cause many diseases and serious health conditions beyond cancer. Symptoms of these asbestos-related diseases can range from mild to severe, and many people do not begin to experience problems until decades after their initial exposure. It is important to consult with your doctor at the first sign of any asbestos-related disease.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by asbestos fibers that stick in the alveoli, or small sacs in the lungs. Asbestosis is not a cancer, but it can have an extremely serious impact on a person’s ability to breath and quality of life. Asbestosis also increases a patient’s risk for developing asbestos lung cancer.
Asbestosis symptoms include shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, chronic cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, and clubbed fingers and toes.
Treatment options include quitting smoking, oxygen tubes or mask, pulmonary rehabilitation exercises, a lung transplant, and hospitalization.
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Pleural effusion, also referred to as a pulmonary effusion or water on the lungs, occurs when fluid builds up in the pleural space between the lungs and the chest cavity. A doctor can diagnose pleural effusion through a chest X-ray or CT scan, and a thoracentesis may be conducted to remove a sample of the fluid and test it.
Pleural effusion symptoms include chest pain, difficult or painful breathing, and coughing.
Treatment options include draining the pleural fluid, which may involve leaving a tube in the chest for continual drainage. Some pleural effusions may also require surgery or pleurodesis, which entails sealing the pleural space so fluid cannot continue to build up.
Pleural plaques are the most common condition associated with asbestos. They are described as “smooth, white, raised, irregular lesions” on the pleura, or the tissue lining the lungs and the chest cavity. Although asbestos-related pleural plaques do not cause mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer, they do indicate that a person is at risk for developing these diseases.
Pleural plaque symptoms are rare, although many patients experience anxiety when they are first diagnosed. However, most people do not even realize they have these lesions. For people who are experiencing symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing, or chest pain, notify a doctor immediately as these may be signs of a more serious asbestos-related disease.
Treatment options include quitting smoking and vigilant monitoring for other signs of asbestos-related diseases.
Pleurisy, also known as pleuritis, occurs when the two layers of pleura tissue lining the outside of the lungs and the inside of the chest wall get inflamed. This tissue is normally smooth, allowing the lungs to expand and contract easily. When the tissue is inflamed by asbestos fibers, the two layers rub up against each other painfully any time a person takes a breath.
Pleurisy symptoms include sharp chest pain (which is worsened by breathing), shortness of breath, cough, and fever. Some people also experience pain in their shoulders or back.
Treatment options primarily focus on pain control and identifying the underlying cause of the condition, such as other asbestos-related diseases. Your doctor may perform blood tests, X-rays, a CT scan, an ultrasound, an electrocardiogram, and other diagnostic procedures to identify the cause of pleurisy.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Asbestos-related diffuse pleural thickening, also known as DPT, occurs when asbestos fibers lodge in the pleura lining the lungs and cause scarring that eventually thickens the tissue and interferes with breathing. Your doctor may use chest X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans when making a DPT diagnosis. He or she may also want to do a biopsy to rule out mesothelioma.
Diffuse pleural thickening symptoms include chronic chest pain and shortness of breath (dyspnea) on exertion. In rare cases, it can cause respiratory failure.
Treatment options are aimed at relieving the symptoms of DPT. Patients should stay active and quit smoking. Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) may also be recommended. In rare cases, surgery may be done to remove the thickened pleura.
Rounded atelectasis is an unusual type of lung collapse that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure. It occurs when the lung folds on itself near an area of pleural scarring or due to pleural effusion. Rounded atelectasis is also referred to as folded lung, Blesovsky syndrome, and atelectatic pseudotumor.
Rounded atelectasis symptoms may include cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. However, most patients do not experience any signs of the condition, and symptoms are often attributed to an underlying disease such as asbestosis.
Treatment options for rounded atelectasis focus on the underlying condition. There is no treatment for rounded atelectasis itself.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as COPD, is a chronic lung disease often associated with smoking. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. However, occupational exposure to dangerous materials such as asbestos can also cause COPD.
COPD symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing, excess mucus, respiratory infections, fatigue, and a blue color in the lips or fingernails (known as cyanosis).
Treatment options include COPD medications, pulmonary rehabilitation, supplemental oxygen, lung surgery, clinical trials, and holistic practices such as yoga and acupuncture.
Pleural fibrosis occurs when the pleura tissue lining the lung becomes scarred due to inhaled asbestos fibers. In severe cases, the thickened tissue can be so extensive that it causes a trapped lung.
Pleural fibrosis symptoms may include breathlessness or chest pain. However, some people may not experience any symptoms. Patients with pleural fibrosis may be diagnosed with other asbestos-related diseases, as well.
Treatment may include decortication, in which the scarred pleura tissue is surgically removed, allowing the patient to breathe easier.
Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when the lung tissue is damaged or scarred, as can happen when asbestos fibers are inhaled and lodge in the lungs. This scarring, which makes the lung tissue thick and stiff, causes difficulty breathing and can lead to serious complications such as pulmonary hypertension, right-sided heart failure, respiratory failure, and other lung problems. Pulmonary fibrosis also increases a person’s risk for lung cancer.
Pulmonary fibrosis symptoms can be moderate and worsen slowly over time, or they can progress quickly, depending on the person. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, weight loss, aching muscles and joints, and clubbing of the fingers or toes.
Treatment options may include medications to slow the progression of the disease, oxygen therapy to help with breathing, and pulmonary rehabilitation to help manage symptoms. For some people, a lung transplant may be an option.