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Some personal injury solicitors specialise in asbestos related disease compensation claims including asbestosis. Asbestosis solicitors usually offer free initial advice on all matters concerning asbestosis related diseases. In most cases asbestosis solicitors are able to deal with all of the legal work involved in an asbestosis compensation claim at no cost and pay compensation in full with no deductions.

Chronic Disease

Asbestosis is a chronic disease of the lungs brought on by exposure to asbestos. People become exposed to asbestos because they work in industrial areas like construction, boat buildings and certain manufacturing processes. Asbestos is inhaled as a dust that inflames the tissues of the lungs, causing the chronic disease. It normally takes a prolonged exposure to the dust in order to get asbestosis and it can take several years before the disease symptoms begin to show.

Recognition

The first known person to die from pulmonary asbestosis died in 1924. She was a textile worker who had occupational asbestos exposure. The company she worked for denied any liability, in part because no one officially recognised asbestosis at the time and the time frame from exposure to symptoms was too great. It wasn’t until several decades later that the connection was formed between exposure to asbestos and its subsequent diseases, primarily asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestosis can result from the manufacturing of products that use asbestos, in the handling of asbestos based insulation product and in those chosen to remove asbestos-containing products without proper respiratory gear. People who live with those exposed to asbestos can get the disease because the workers bring microscopic fibres of asbestos in the form of asbestos dust. Wives who then wash their husband’s clothing will breathe in the dust and can get asbestosis themselves.

Latency Period

Those who develop inflammation of the lungs from asbestosis often are short of breath and have a chronic cough. These symptoms show up often decades after the exposure. The shortness of breath usually comes on with exertion and is better with rest. The person can progress in their disease to the point of getting respiratory failure and death. Doctors who treat patients with asbestosis can also hear fine inspiratory rales or crackles when listening to the lungs.

Restrictive Lung Disease

Asbestosis is what’s called a “restrictive lung disease”, meaning that it causes the lungs to be effectively “smaller” when it comes to taking in enough air. So much of the lung is involved in inflammation that it can’t exchange oxygen from the air with carbon dioxide as it usually can. The walls of the alveoli, which do the exchange, are thicker and unable to pass gases through their membranes. The lungs essentially become stiff and interfere with the right ventricular aspect of the heart, which is the part of the heart that delivers blood to the lungs. This part of the heart can fail, in a condition called “cor pulmonale”.

Symptoms

Asbestosis can take years, even decades, to become symptomatic. It takes that long for the scar tissue to form around the small bronchioles that deliver oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the alveoli. It does this because the fibres of asbestos are straight, thin and needle-like. They penetrate deep into the lungs over time, causing inflammation and scarring wherever they go. Eventually, the asbestos “needles” reach the peripheral alveoli, where the settle and cause alveolar inflammation and the inability of the alveoli (air sacs) to do their job.

Inflammation

The lungs then activate their immune system in an attempt to rid the body of the microscopic needles and a slow progression of scar tissue forms. It involves inflammation cells called macrophages, which eat the fibers and trigger other cells to lay down connective tissue or what’s called “scar tissue”. The macrophages are generally unable to digest the asbestos and then they die, releasing chemicals that trigger even more inflammation in a self-perpetuating cycle. Under the microscope, these balls of inflammation and connective tissue are called psammoma bodies, a classic sign that the person has asbestosis.

Diagnosis

When diagnosing asbestosis, there are several criteria doctors must look for in order to prove the patient has the disease. These include :-

 

microscopic evidence of psammoma bodies or other histological evidence of the disease

imaging studies like a CT scan of the lungs or MRI of the chest that show evidence of asbestosis

history of environmental or occupational exposure to asbestos in the past

pleural plaques seen on scans or x-ray or recovery of asbestos needles in a biopsy

exclusion of other possible causes of the above findings

Pleural Plaques

More than half of all people who have asbestosis have pleural plaques as a finding on x-ray. A much smaller percentage can have mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the lungs. People with asbestosis have a 300 times risk of getting mesothelioma when compared to people who weren’t exposed to asbestos.

Mimics

Other diseases that can mimic asbestosis include hypersensitivity pneumonitis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis. These diseases often progress faster than asbestosis and do not have pleural plaques as is often seen in asbestosis. These other diseases also don’t have the finding of psammoma bodies on biopsy of the lungs. If a biopsy shows asbestos bodies but don’t show fibrosis, this means the patient has been exposed to asbestos but hasn’t yet developed full-blown disease.

Cure or Treatment?

Asbestosis cannot be cured and there are no treatments that can reverse the disease. Many patients require oxygen to correct shortness of breath and many need respiratory therapy in the form of percussing the chest in order to loosen up secretions. Patients may also require nebulizers to decrease inflammation or increase lung flow. These people need immunisations against Pneumococcus pneumoniae and annual flu vaccinations, so they don’t get exacerbations of the disease.

 

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Posted by Virginia K. Stockstill

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