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Asbestosis is, as its name suggests, caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres. It is not a cancerous lung disease.
The underlying disease process of asbestosis is not yet fully understood, but it appears that asbestos fibres in the lungs cause irritation and inflammation. The body attempts to neutralize these foreign fibres in various complex ways, and some or all of these processes lead to further inflammation and cell damage. Eventually a fibrosis or scar tissue develops in the interstitial spaces around the small airways and alveoli. This thickening and scarring prevents oxygen and carbon dioxide from traveling between the alveoli and the blood cells, so breathing becomes much less efficient.
Asbestosis often exists without any symptoms, and is then detected only by x-ray findings. However, the symptoms of asbestosis typically include shortness of breath and coughing. As the disease progresses, the symptoms can worsen. It can be a progressive disease, meaning that it continues to progress even after exposure to asbestos has stopped. In unusual cases it can be fatal.
The scarring and thickening can be seen on x-rays and CT scans. Also, if it reduces the functioning of the lungs, asbestosis can be detected by a breathing or pulmonary function test (PFT.)
Diagnosis can be made only when there is a history of asbestos exposure and positive results from a clinical exam, chest x-rays, CT scans, and/or a pulmonary function test (PFT.) It can also be conclusively identified through a biopsy; click on A, B and C to see three microscopic slides of asbestos fibres lodged in the lungs.
Asbestosis affects both lungs (it is bilateral) and, although it is mainly in the lower fields of the lungs, it is usually widespread (diffuse.)
Serious asbestosis is usually caused by heavy exposure to asbestos, such as sustained exposure over a period of years (e.g. a longtime worker at an asbestos textile plant) and/or intense exposure during a shorter period (e.g. a worker in the boiler and engine rooms of ships under construction in the Second World War.)
This does not mean that everyone who was heavily exposed to asbestos gets asbestosis, only that everyone who gets asbestosis was exposed to large quantities of asbestos fibres.
The specific type of asbestos fibre to which the worker was exposed does not seem to be significant in the development of asbestosis.
At the moment there is no cure or effective treatment for asbestosis. People with asbestosis are also at high risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR
This information should not be taken as a diagnosis in any way. If you have symptoms of any of the asbestos related diseases, see your doctor immediately.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE
Consulting with a solicitor in relation to a possible claim for damages is perceived as a daunting experience. This perception is often made worse when the client has contracted an asbestos condition, and in particular one of a malignant nature. However, it is important that you and your family are fully aware of your rights so that an informed decision can be made.
It is critically important that you seek legal advice from a solicitor experienced in Asbestos Litigation.
Please call AussieLegal on 1300 728 200 for assistance and a referral to a recommended specialist law firm.
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