Understanding Asbestosis

What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a disease that involves scarring of lung tissue as a result of breathing in asbestos fibers. The disease causes the lung tissues and the lining of the chest wall to thicken and harden. The scarring makes it hard for you to breathe and for oxygen to get into the blood. The disease worsens slowly over time. In some people the disease causes no symptoms, while in others it can cause severe symptoms.

Asbestos was previously widely used as an insulator and fire retardant until it became known that its microscopic fibers cause disease, including cancer. Asbestos exposure occurred in industries including the asbestos mining and milling industries, construction, and fireproofing.

Today asbestos is a well recognized health hazard, and is highly regulated by the government. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job, specifically in construction work, shipyards, and general industry that employers are required to follow.

How Serious is Asbestosis?

Asbestos is potentially deadly. Between 1999 and 2004, there were 3,211 deaths due to asbestosis in the United States.

Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue to form inside the lung. The severity of your disease depends on how long you were exposed to asbestos and the amount you inhaled. Often, symptoms and lung scarring do not occur and are not noticed for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis usually develops slowly. Breathing becomes more difficult over time. A person with asbestosis may eventually need supplemental oxygen therapy to help them breathe. The disease can lead to failure of the heart and lungs.

What Causes Asbestosis?

When you breathe in tiny asbestos fibers, they can get stuck deep inside your lungs. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue to form inside the lungs. This scar tissue does not expand and contract normally, which interferes with breathing.

Asbestos fibers may remain in the lungs for a lifetime. In some cases, the fibers might damage the lungs or the membrane covering the lungs, leading to illness and even death.