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More than 200,000 people die globally every year due to lung diseases and cancer resulting from exposure to asbestos. Between the 70’sand 90’s, asbestos remained a favourite component of construction materials because of its durability, resistance to fire, and insulation properties, and is therefore found in most buildings built before 1990. Even though it has properties that are attractive to construction, industrial, and commercial products, asbestos is a highly toxic material associated with a range of fatal illnesses.
Exposure to asbestos causes mild to severe cancer (lungs, larynx, ovary), mesothelioma, and asbestosis depending on the intensity and duration of exposure (cumulative exposure index). Asbestos exposure results from inhaling or ingesting microscopic asbestos fibres in our living (household exposure) or working (occupational exposure) spaces. When such exposure is intense and prolonged, inhaled or ingested microscopic asbestos fibres accumulate in the lungs and progress to life threatening lung damages. These damages can be cancerous like mesothelioma or noncancerous like asbestosis.
Note that if your house was built between the 70’s and 90’s, you are possibly living in a house built using asbestos materials which definitely predisposes you to asbestos exposure. This underscores the importance of ridding your home of asbestos and/or regular medical examination for asbestos-related diseases if your occupation exposes you to asbestos.
The focus of this article is to provide you with information about the noncancerous life-threatening asbestos-related disease called asbestosis.
What Is Asbestosis?
Available scientific evidence supports the claim that prolonged exposure to all kinds of asbestos can cause asbestosis which is a non-cancerous chronic lung disease associated with shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, loss of appetite, weight loss, clubbing of toes/fingertips, and chest tightness or pain.
Asbestos is a toxic carcinogenic mineral whose dust can remain airborne for hours. The dust contains microscopic asbestos fibres which can take approximately 48 – 72 hours to settle. If the dust is disturbed, asbestos exposure happens and anyone within the range can inhale or ingest the fibres leading to asbestosis. Asbestosis can result from primary exposure or secondary exposure. You can be exposed to asbestos directly or indirectly without ever working with or handling asbestos products.
• Primary exposure to asbestos – This can be occupational, home, or environmental. It is the direct exposure at the workplace, home, or environment where an individual directly inhales or ingests asbestos fibres from a disturbed installation or product.
• Secondary exposure to asbestos – Indirect exposure where an individual inhales or ingests asbestos fibres from contaminated clothes or items of a directly exposed individual. For example, a family member working in an asbestos mine can come home with contaminated clothes, leading to secondary exposure of the other household members.
Whether the exposure is primary or secondary, there are three important pathways through which asbestos can enter the body:
• Inhalation – This is the primary route through which asbestos enter the body.
• Ingestion – Results from swallowing by drinking or ingesting something contaminated with asbestos.
• Contact – Asbestos dust and fibres may stick to the skin through dermal exposure when working without proper protective equipment.
Inhalation is the most important entry pathway that leads to asbestosis. Cumulative exposure index (CEI) among people who are occupationally exposed is calculated over a period of an individual’s working life to assess their risk of getting asbestosis. Prolonged exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibres causes several symptoms to appear, some of which take about 10 to 40 years after an individual was first exposed to show.
Other than lung inflammation, asbestosis can also cause other non-malignant (non-cancerous) lung and pleural disorders including:
• Pleural plaques which are manifested as thickening of the linings around the lungs.
• Fluid build-up around the lungs, a condition known as pleural effusion.
• Diffuse pleural thickening which causes extensive scarring of the lungs.
• Pleurisy which leads to what is known as pleuritic pain.
Asbestos exposure also causes some types of cancer, particularly mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen due to exposure to asbestos.
How Do You Tell If You Have Asbestosis?
When you are exposed to asbestos dust, you inhale or swallow microscopic asbestos fibres. Your body cannot get rid of all these fibres which are then permanently lodged in your digestive tract or respiratory sacs of your lungs. When the asbestos fibres accumulate in your body, they cause inflammation, damage your DNA, irritate and scar your lungs.
Asbestosis, which is an inflammatory condition of the lungs, results from prolonged exposure to asbestos. The exposure leads to accumulation of asbestos fibres in the air sacs causing irritation and scarring of the lungs. As the scarring progresses, the lung becomes so stiff that it can no longer contract or expand normally. The signs of asbestos exposure include breathing difficulty, coughing, loss of appetite, and chest pain.
If you are experiencing the above signs, especially shortness of breath and you have a history of exposure to asbestos, it is likely that you have asbestosis. Visit your doctor for a medical examination focusing on asbestosis.
Factors That Increase Your Risk Of Getting Asbestosis
The risk of asbestosis is proportional to the intensity and duration of exposure to asbestos. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of asbestosis. This does not mean that there are safe levels of asbestos exposure, no! It is only that most of the asbestos-related diseases arise after so many years of exposure. The risk of asbestos exposure can result from:
• Living around asbestos mines
• Handling or disturbing products that contain asbestos
• Your occupation/work
• Unintentional human error or natural disasters
If you live around mines, you will likely inhale the surrounding air which has asbestos dust containing asbestos fibres. Overtime, the asbestos fibres accumulate in your lungs leading to asbestosis. The risk of exposure also happens when you are handling asbestos materials and the dust is disturbed thereby releasing asbestos fibres in the air. Natural disasters like earthquakes and human activities like explosives may unearth deposits of asbestos which are lifted in the air in the form of dust.
Jobs like mining, milling and manufacturing exposed people to risks of asbestosis in the 1970’s. Presently, professionals involved in the asbestos removal jobs are at risk of developing asbestosis. Members of households of exposed workers are also at risk of getting asbestosis if they come home with their work attire with asbestos fibres attached to it. Also, if you live around mines, you are exposed to asbestos fibres lifted in the air and if this exposure is prolonged, your risk of getting asbestosis is high.
Specific jobs that increase your risk of getting asbestosis include:
• Mining asbestos
• Operating boilers manufactured using asbestos
• Mechanic (motor vehicle and aircraft)
• Railroad and building construction work
• Refinery work
• Asbestos removal and disposal work
• Working at shipyards
Smoking is a lifestyle that appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibres in the lungs, and often results in a faster progression of the disease.
Diagnosis of asbestosis targets the assessment of the lungs condition. Your asbestos exposure history is very important during the asbestosis diagnosis process. Usually, a chest X-ray or CT scan is performed to show if the lung has some scarring. The image from these procedures is combined with your asbestos exposure history as well as breathing tests to evaluate the severity of your asbestosis.
You are encouraged to visit a doctor in the event that you experience increasing breathing difficulty and you have a history of exposure to asbestos. Some of the questions your primary doctor will ask before referring you to a pulmonologist include:
• Your breathing at rest and during exercise
• Your job history
• The time your symptoms started
• Previous treatments
• Smoking history
• Products you are in contact with
Depending on your screening tests and the pulmonologist’s opinion, you may be subjected to the following diagnostic tests:
• Lung function test
• Chest X-ray
• High Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT)
• CT scan
Normally, High resolution computed tomography(HRCT) is able to detect asbestos induced changes earlier than chest x-ray and is therefore useful for early diagnosis of asbestosis.
Treatment And Prevention Of Asbestosis
The signs and symptoms of asbestosis are similar to those of many other respiratory diseases. The treatment of asbestosis focuses on prevention measures and managing of the symptoms.
You can handle materials that are made of asbestos without the risk of getting asbestosis. Following workplace safety measures reduces your risk of exposure to asbestos and is regarded as the best way to prevent asbestosis. As long as asbestos fibres are contained and undisturbed, the risk of exposure is reduced. This is why even in the buildings where installations such as plumbing and tiling are done using asbestos, the risk of exposure is low until they are damaged and the asbestos dust with fibre is released and inhaled.
There is a greater risk of developing asbestosis when asbestos exposure is combined with smoking. This is because smoking increases accumulation of asbestos fibres in your air sacs and therefore hastens the progression to asbestosis. As a preventive measure therefore, you should quit smoking if you are at risk of exposure to asbestos.
Identifying And Removing Asbestos In Your Home
Asbestos may be in your home without your knowledge. You are however safe if the asbestos material is not disturbed because it will not release asbestos fibres in the air. However, there is danger in not having knowledge of the existence of asbestos in your home yet you constantly disturb the asbestos material. It is therefore important that you know if there is asbestos in your house.
When you are suspecting that asbestos is in your house, check for tears, abrasion or water damages. If you spot these signs, limit disturbing the area and contact professional inspectors for assessment, collection, and analysis of the samples. Then, hire a licensed contractor to remove the asbestos.
Professional Asbestos Removal And Disposal In Brisbane
If you are considering removing asbestos from your property, it is important to hire a licensed professional contractor who follows all the asbestos removal and disposal laws.
Irwin Asbestos Management is Brisbane's go-to asbestos services provider. If you are looking for a company that prioritises professionalism and standards in asbestos removal, look nowhere else. They are just the right team for your asbestos removal and disposal job.
You do not need to hire inspection and removal experts separately. Irwin Asbestos Management provides the following services which saves you time and money:
By hiring a company whose work is anchored on excellence and professionalism, you are assured of quality work.