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Diagnosing and Treating Asbestosis

Asbestosis is usually diagnosed by a careful medical history, exposure history and chest X-ray or CT scan that shows scarring of the lung tissues. This information, along with breathing tests, help your doctor determine how severe your asbestosis is and how much of your lung is working.

What to Expect

During the visit, your doctor will ask about your breathing, both at rest and during exercise. Your doctor will also ask about your jobs in detail to determine how much you were exposed to asbestos. So, it would be a good idea to prepare the following information in advance:

  • Your symptoms and the time they started
  • Treatments given before for the symptoms
  • The work you have done in your entire career; the length of time you spent in each job
  • The products you were in contact with at work and whether or not you wore protective equipment
  • Smoking history
  • Any old medical records, including chest X-rays or CT scans

During the physical examination your doctor will listen to your lungs to determine if the sounds are normal or not. Your doctor may then order the following tests:

  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Lung function test

Biopsy, where small samples of lung tissue are surgically removed and then examined for the scars and tiny asbestos fibers, is usually not necessary to diagnose asbestosis.

How Asbestosis Is Treated

There is no treatment that can reverse the damage done by asbestos. You can take certain steps to help slow down the progression, especially preventing further exposure to asbestos and quitting smoking. There are also treatments that your physician can prescribe to help ease your breathing and maintain your general lung health.

  • Stopping smoking
  • In smokers, medications may be prescribed to help quit, or to ease symptoms that may be related to cigarette-related lung problems.
  • Flu and pneumonia vaccines do not treat asbestosis, but are recommended for almost everyone with lung disease.
  • In some with low oxygen levels, oxygen using a tube that fits in the nostrils or by mask may be helpful
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is an exercise program designed to help all patients with chronic lung conditions.

In very severe situations, you doctor may also refer you to a lung transplant specialist.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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