Asbestosis is a condition where the lungs develop fibrosis (loss of natural sponginess) in response to asbestos exposure.
Pulmonary Fibrosis can also occur due to other inhaled agents, but asbestosis is only caused by high levels of inhaled asbestos which occurs in situations such as cutting up sheets of asbestos without mask/protection.
The symptoms include breathlessness and cough and the doctor may hear crackles in the bases of the lungs. Symptoms can occur up to 30 years after exposure to asbestos has finished.
It is a condition which does not respond to any treatment, and symptoms are usually progressive. Some people are discovered to have it on a chest X-ray without any significant symptoms; in others it is diagnosed after symptoms develop.
Management focuses on preventive measures, including:
- Smoking cessation
- Prevention of further asbestos exposure
- Supplemental oxygen when low oxygen levels are detected
- Prompt treatment of respiratory infections
- Pneumococcal and influenza vaccination (as with all chronic respiratory disease)
Asbestos exposure can also cause hardening of the lung lining which can show up on an X-ray as ‘Pleural Plaques’ these are completely benign.
However asbestos can also cause a pleural malignancy called Mesothelioma which is also covered in this website.