What is Asbestosis ?
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease (pulmonary fibrosis) caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers.
Asbestos is a natural hydrated silicate of calcium and magnesium. It is defined by a set of fibrous varieties of certain minerals. Asbestos was very often used in construction and construction until 1997.
Asbestos represents a health risk in the event that it is damaged, chipped, pierced, resulting in the formation of dust containing asbestos fibers. These can be inhaled by the exposed people and thus be at the origin of health impacts.
In the context where dust is inhaled, these asbestos fibers reach the lungs and can cause long-term damage. These dusts containing asbestos fibers are therefore harmful for the individual who is in contact therewith.
For asbestosis to develop, prolonged exposure to a high number of asbestos fibers is necessary.
Prolonged exposure to a significant amount of asbestos fibers, however, is not the only risk factor for developing the disease. In addition, the prevention of the exposure of populations to this natural silicate is essential in order to avoid any risk of development of the pathology.
- The disease is characterized by inflammation of the lung tissue.
- It is an irreversible disease without curative treatment developed.
The characteristic symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath, persistent cough, intense fatigue, rapid breathing and chest pain.
This pathology can affect the patient’s daily life and lead to certain complications. These complications can be lethal for the affected subject.
Symptoms of Asbestosis
Prolonged exposure to a large number of particles containing asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis.
In the case of development of Asbestosis, these fibers can cause lesions in the lungs (fibrosis) and lead to the development of some characteristic symptoms:
- – Shortness of breath that may appear after physical activity at first then develops steadily in a second;
- – A persistent cough;
- – wheezing
- – Intense fatigue;
- – Chest pain;
- – swelling at the end of the fingers.
The current diagnosis of people with asbestosis is often linked to chronic and old exposure to asbestos fibers. Generally, the exposures relate to the workplace of the individual.
People with this type of symptom who have been chronically exposed to asbestos are strongly advised to consult their doctor in order to diagnose the disease.
The origins of the disease
Asbestosis is a disease that develops as a result of repeated exposure to a significant number of asbestos fibers.
Exposure is usually at the subject’s workplace. Some sectors of activity may be more affected by the phenomenon. Asbestos was used for a long time in the construction, building and mineral extraction sectors.
In a healthy organism, when in contact with a foreign body (here, when inhaling dust containing asbestos fibers), cells of the immune system (macrophages) can fight against it and to prevent it from reaching the bloodstream and certain vital organs (lungs, heart, etc.).
In the case of inhalation of asbestos fibers, macrophages have great difficulty in removing them from the body. In attempting to attack and destroy inhaled asbestos fibers, macrophages damage the alveoli of the lungs (small sacs in the lungs). These alveolar lesions caused by the defense system of the body are characteristic of the disease.
These cells have a fundamental role in the transfer of oxygen within the body. They allow the entry of oxygen into the bloodstream and the release of carbon dioxide.
In the context where the cells are damaged or damaged, this process of regulating gases in the body is affected and atypical symptoms appear: shortness of breath, wheezing, etc.
Certain more specific symptoms and diseases may also be associated with asbestosis, such as:
Calcification of the pleura forming pleural plaques (accumulation of calcium deposits in the membrane covering the lungs);
– A malignant mesothelium (cancer of the pleura) that can develop 20 to 40 years after chronic exposure to asbestos fibers;
Pleural effusion, ie the presence of fluid inside the pleura;
– Lung cancer.
The severity of the disease is directly related to the duration of exposure to asbestos fibers and the amount inhaled. The specific symptoms of asbestosis usually appear about 20 years after exposure to asbestos fibers.
The current regulatory aspects make it possible to reduce the exposure of populations to asbestos through controls, treatments and monitoring, particularly for older installations. The ban on the use of asbestos in the building sector is the subject of a decree dating from 1996.
The major risk factor for developing asbestosis is chronic (long-term) exposure to a large number of dusts containing asbestos fibers. Exposure is by inhalation of small particles in the form of dust, deterioration of buildings, extraction of minerals, and others.
Smoking is an additional risk factor for the development of this pathology.
Prevention and treatment
The first phase of the diagnosis of asbestosis is consultation with a general practitioner who, during his examination, realizes the presence in the subject of the atypical symptoms of the disease.
In the context where this disease affects the lungs, when diagnosed with a stethoscope, these emit a characteristic crackling sound.
In addition, the differential diagnosis is defined by answers on the history of the working conditions of the subject, on the possible period of exposure to asbestos, etc.
If development of asbestosis is suspected, consultation with a pulmonologist is necessary for confirmation of the diagnosis. The identification of lung lesions is performed using:
– A chest x-ray to detect abnormalities in the lung structure;
– A computed tomography of the lungs (CT). This means of visualization provides more detailed images of the lungs, the pleura (membrane surrounding the lungs) and the pleural cavity. Computed tomography shows obvious abnormalities in the lungs.
– Pulmonary tests are used to assess the impact of the damage to the lungs, to determine the volume of air contained in the pulmonary alveoli and to have a vision regarding the passage of air from the membrane of the lungs. Lungs to the bloodstream.
To date, there is no cure for the disease. Nevertheless, alternatives exist to reduce the consequences of the pathology, to limit the symptoms and to improve the daily life of the patients.
As tobacco is an additional risk factor for developing the disease and a factor for worsening symptoms, smoking patients are strongly recommended to stop smoking. For this, solutions exist such as therapies or drugs.
Moreover, in the presence of asbestosis, the subject’s lungs are therefore more sensitive and more vulnerable to the development of infections.
It is therefore advisable that the patient is up to date in his vaccinations concerning in particular the agents responsible for the flu or pneumopathies.
In severe forms of the disease, the subject’s body is no longer able to properly perform certain vital functions. In this sense, oxygen therapy may be recommended if an oxygen level in the blood is below normal.
In general, patients with asbestosis do not benefit from specific treatments.
On the other hand, in the case of the presence of other pulmonary conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), medications may be prescribed.
The most serious cases may also benefit from medications such as small doses of morphine to reduce shortness of breath and coughing. In addition, adverse effects (side effects) on taking small doses of morphine are often visible: constipation, laxative effects, etc.
From a preventive point of view, people chronically exposed for more than 10 years, must have radiographic monitoring of the lungs every 3 to 5 years in order to detect any associated diseases as soon as possible.
In addition, the significant reduction or complete cessation of smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing lung cancer.