Asbestosis and Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease

Asbestosis is the scarring of the lung tissue itself from inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers.  Diagnosis of this disease requires a physical examination, a chest x-ray, and a breathing test.

Compensation for asbestosis generally requires a diagnosis by a board-certified specialist in pulmonary disease.

Persons with asbestosis have a substantially increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma and other malignancies; however, it is impossible to predict which asbestosis victims will contract these malignancies and which asbestosis victims will not.

Asbestosis Symptoms & Diagnosis 

The primary symptom of pulmonary asbestosis is shortness of breath with activity. Physicians refer to this as "dyspnea." Persons with asbestosis also frequently complain of dry cough. The disease progresses very slowly, but when it does progress, the symptoms get worse over time. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for asbestosis, and the condition is permanent.

The important factors that a physician must consider when determining whether a person has asbestosis are as follows:

  • Has there been a history of asbestos exposure (at work or at home)?
  • Has there been an adequate latency period between the time of exposure and the time that symptoms occurred (usually 20 years)?
  • Is there a symptom of shortness of breath with activity?
  • What are the sounds that can be heard in the lungs? (Some sounds are associated with smoking, but the sound of crackles is generally associated with asbestosis).
  • What does the x-ray show? (Asbestosis usually shows "interstitial fibrosis" or "scarring" on both sides of the chest).
  • Is there any scarring on the pleura (asbestosis is frequently accompanied by pleural plaques or pleural thickening).
  • What does the breathing test show? (Asbestosis causes restrictive lung function impairment, as compared to smoking which causes obstructive lung function impairment).
  • Is there a history of heart disease or other lung disease, (if so this could explain the breathing test, the chest x-ray or the sounds in the lung).

Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease 

A diagnosis of asbestos-related pleural disease is not the same diagnosis of asbestosis.

The pleura is a thin lining of the chest cavity. The pleura provides a lubricated surface for the lungs to expand and contract against. Following exposure to asbestos, and a latency period of at least ten years, pleural changes may begin to appear on chest x-rays. These changes are called pleural thickening or pleural calcification or "pleural plaques."

On the other hand, the scarring of asbestosis occurs inside the lung, and it usually does cause a lung function impairment.


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