Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been used in thousands of products throughout the United States and around the world for decades. Its dangerous health effects have also been known for decades, but companies that used asbestos in their products failed to warn workers and consumers of the harm it could cause.
Asbestos has been shown to cause cancer as well as a variety of other debilitating diseases. Many of these illnesses take 15 to 60 years to develop, meaning people who were exposed to asbestos many years ago are only now showing signs of disease.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and are experiencing respiratory problems, talk to your doctor immediately. An early diagnosis is your first step in fighting an asbestos disease.
How Does Asbestos Cause Disease?
Asbestos fibers are microscopic and can be released into the air during the production, maintenance, repair, removal or demolition of asbestos-containing materials and equipment. Anyone who is in the vicinity may inhale this asbestos dust.
Asbestos fibers get stuck in the tissue that lines the chest wall, lungs and other internal organs. The body is not able to expel these fibers, which can cause severe irritation and tumors over time.
Signs of many asbestos diseases include respiratory symptoms such as coughing, pain in the chest, trouble breathing and fluid buildup. If an asbestos cancer such as mesothelioma or lung cancer develops, it can quickly spread to other areas of the body.
Identifying Asbestos Diseases
About 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. This rare cancer affects the mesothelium membrane that lines the lungs, chest cavity, abdominal cavity, and abdominal organs. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos.
The most common type of this aggressive cancer is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue lining the lungs and chest wall. However, mesothelioma can also develop in the tissue surrounding the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) or the testicles (tunica vaginalis testis mesothelioma).
Symptoms of mesothelioma may include pain in the chest or abdomen, difficulty breathing, chronic or painful cough, fluid buildup, loss of appetite or weight loss, lumps on the chest or in the abdomen, trouble swallowing, fatigue and fever.
Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, there are many treatment options aimed at making the patient comfortable. These may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Many new treatments are also being explored as part of clinical trials.
Asbestos can cause lung cancer when fibers are inhaled and lodge directly in the lung, instead of sticking in the mesothelium tissue. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Americans die each year from asbestos lung cancer.
Symptoms of lung cancer are similar to those of mesothelioma but may also include hoarseness, swelling in the neck or face, and coughing up blood. Treatment typically includes a multimodal approach that may involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
When asbestos fibers stick in the small sacs in the lungs known as the alveoli, asbestosis can develop. Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease, not a cancer. However, it is a serious illness that can also increase a person’s chance for developing lung cancer.
People with asbestosis have difficulty breathing and may need to wear oxygen masks or tubes. Other symptoms of asbestosis may include pain in the chest, chronic cough, weight loss or loss of appetite, and clubbed fingers and toes. Patients may need pulmonary rehabilitation therapy, and a lung transplant and hospitalization may be necessary in some cases.
Pleural effusion occurs when irritation from asbestos fibers cause fluid to build up between the lungs and chest wall. Symptoms may include trouble breathing, pain in the chest and coughing.
A doctor may use an X-ray or CT scan to diagnose pleural effusion. The doctor may also perform a thoracentesis to take a sample of the fluid for testing because pleural effusion can be a sign of mesothelioma.
Treatment for pleural effusion typically involves draining the fluid. The doctor may also recommend pleurodesis to seal the pleural space and prevent future fluid buildup.
Pleural Plaques, Fibrosis and Thickening
The most common condition caused by asbestos is pleural plaques, which are lesions that form on the pleura lining the lungs and chest cavity. Pleural plaques do not typically have symptoms, but the scarring can eventually thicken the tissue, leading to problems breathing and chest pain. This can cause pleural fibrosis or diffuse pleural thickening, also known as DPT.
When pleural plaques are discovered, the doctor will continue to monitor for other signs of asbestos disease. If diffuse pleural thickening develops, the doctor may recommend treatment to relieve symptoms, including pulmonary rehabilitation. Treatment for pleural fibrosis may include decortication, a surgery to remove the scarred tissue and make it easier for the patient to breathe.
When asbestos fibers lodge in the pleura tissue lining the lungs and the chest wall, the tissue can become inflamed, making it difficult and painful for the lungs to expand and contract. This is known as pleurisy.
People with pleurisy can experience sharp chest pain whenever they take a breath. They may also have a painful cough and fever, as well as pain in the back or shoulders. Treatment usually focuses on managing the pain and identifying any underlying diseases.
When asbestos causes pleural scarring or pleural effusion, the affected lung can fold on itself. This rare type of lung collapse is known as rounded atelectasis or folded lung.
Some patients may not experience any symptoms, while others may have chest pain, trouble breathing and a cough. There is no treatment for this condition other than to identify and treat the underlying cause.
Financial Help for Those Diagnosed with Asbestos Diseases
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious asbestos disease such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis, you may have a right to compensation from the company(s) responsible for your exposure. Our partners at Mesothelioma Help can connect you with respected and nationally recognized asbestos attorneys who can evaluate your case for free and advise you on your legal options.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to payment for:
- Past and future medical bills
- Lost wages and reduced earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Wrongful death damages if you have lost a loved one to an asbestos disease
It is important that you seek legal advice as soon as you receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis. Although compensation options are available, the law limits the amount of time you have to file a claim.
Visit Mesothelioma Help now to learn more about your options for financial compensation, and take the time to review their extensive resources on asbestos diseases, treatments, medical specialists, and caregiver support networks.