How can asbestosis be misdiagnosed as pneumonia?

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on December 17th, 2020

The long-term inflammation of the lungs due to asbestos fibers predispose patients to recurrent pneumonia. If you believe that exposure to asbestos has caused you or a loved one to develop a disease, it's important to seek medical advice, so you can be properly diagnosed.

The risk of exposure to the silicate mineral asbestos was a common threat in the workplace particularly from the 1970s to the 1980s. Once thought to be a miracle mineral for its resistance to heat, fire, and chemical attack, asbestos is now known to cause a significant number of health issues, including asbestosis - a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that can produce symptoms similar to pneumonia during its early stages.

You were likely exposed to asbestos if you worked in an industry such as:

  • manufacturing
  • shipbuilding and repair
  • power generation
  • oil and gas
  • steel mills
  • construction
  • coal mine

Many of those who worked across these industries are living proof of the dangers that come with long-term inhalation of asbestos fibers. It is important to note that, if you have asbestosis, you are not eligible to file a claim for asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis has a broad range of generalized symptoms similar to conditions such as pneumonia

The reason why asbestosis and pneumonia are often confused is that patients present signs of pleural thickening - a manifestation of several pulmonary diseases. This means that the pleura become scarred as a result of prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers and the lungs lose their elasticity. When this happens, the lungs are less able to expand to allow you to take deep breaths and normal breathing becomes impaired.

Asbestosis causes shortness of breath on exertion, persistent cough, wheezing, extreme tiredness, and chest pain. Compare this to the signs and symptoms of pneumonia, which are listed as being:

  • fast or hard breathing
  • cough
  • sharp or stabbing chest pain
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness

There are differences in the symptoms depending on whether the pneumonia is bacterial or viral, but the main symptoms perfectly emulate those of asbestosis. However, when people consult a physician with these symptoms, they will almost always be suspected to have pneumonia, rather than asbestosis. Treatment will be provided as such and since this treatment is likely to resolve some of the uncomfortable "grating" sensations when they breathe, people will feel better and presume their physician was right about the diagnosis.

Asbestosis can increase a person's risk of recurrent and persistent pneumonia

Asbestos-exposed workers and veterans are more vulnerable to repeated lower respiratory tract infections like flu and pneumonia. Defined as at least 2 pneumonia episodes in one year or more than 3 at any time, with radiographic clearing between episodes, recurrent pneumonia most commonly occurs in patients with underlying lung disease such as asbestosis.

If the bronchial walls get thicker because of inflammation and scarring due to asbestos fibers, then the normal mechanism that sweeps air-borne microorganisms, and bacteria up and out via sputum into a cough is lost or diminished. This allows viruses or bacteria to proliferate and eventually cause infection.

Difficulty in breathing during exercise and chest pain can be the first indicators that something is amiss. Asbestosis patients often experience much more severe symptoms as their disease progresses. Because the signs and symptoms of early-stage asbestosis closely resemble the symptoms of pneumonia, many doctors misdiagnose asbestosis as pneumonia. If you believe that exposure to asbestos has caused you or a loved one to develop a lung condition, it's important to seek medical advice, so you can be properly diagnosed.

If you are a former industrial worker or a veteran with a history of asbestos exposure, it is important to seek a second opinion from a specialist as this could lead to effective treatment and also helps you recover the full compensation you deserve from the asbestos trust funds.

Doctors may not consider asbestosis if they do not know their patient's past history of asbestos exposure

Ever since 1920 studies have shown strong associations between serious lung diseases and occupational exposure to asbestos. During World War II, asbestos use has seen exponential growth in the U.S., until the 80s when its use was regulated.

Asbestos-related diseases can take up to 40 years to start showing signs, and they can develop even after the exposure has stopped. We strongly recommend frequent check-ups in order to catch any abnormality early on.

We have significant experience in securing compensation for asbestos victims and their families

If you have lost a loved one as a result of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, claiming compensation can never truly make up for that loss, but it can make it easier to get through this difficult time. If you want to pursue a claim for compensation, it is important to speak with an experienced legal representative as soon as possible. Reach out to our firm today and our dedicated professionals can take prompt and effective steps to help you and your family throughout the claim process.