Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has symptoms similar to asbestosis and may co-occur with it

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on January 07th, 2021

If you have been diagnosed with COPD and held down a job that involved handling asbestos-containing products, or you have a history of military asbestos exposure, we strongly recommend you seeking a second opinion from a specialist in asbestos-related diseases. This will help you avoid misdiagnosis and delaying treatment.

Most interstitial asbestos-related pulmonary diseases result in progressive scarring of the lung tissue. Once that occurs, it's generally irreversible. Effective treatment can stop or slow the progression of the scarring and help preserve lung function. Incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, however, allows scarring to continue and result in permanent damage to the lungs. That's why getting a prompt and accurate diagnosis is so important. A history of asbestos exposure may provide the first clue to the diagnosis of an asbestos-related respiratory disease, such as asbestosis.

Understand your risk: asbestos exposure gradually damages the lungs and affects how you breathe

If you have been exposed to asbestos, you could be at a greater risk for emphysema and chronic bronchitis - the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD - because the long-term inflammation of the lungs due to asbestos fibers will make you more susceptible to developing this condition.

COPD is a slowly developing disease that usually starts with wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, and coughs. These symptoms get worse over time. A COPD exacerbation - more commonly known as a 'flare-up' - is a sudden worsening of symptoms.

If home treatment is not working well enough, or if your symptoms are very severe, you may need urgent or even emergency hospital treatment. You may need additional (supplemental) oxygen to help you breathe. Sometimes a special machine is used to assist the function of the lungs.

COPD exacerbation symptoms may include:

  • extreme shortness of breath
  • sharp, stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or lie down
  • feeling excessively agitated, confused, or drowsy

If your symptoms are more severe or prolonged than your usual day-to-day COPD symptoms, you should contact your doctor, go to the nearest emergency room, or call 911.

If you have COPD, it's important not to assume that any worsening of symptoms is always because of COPD, especially if you have a history of occupational asbestos exposure. You should see your doctor to check the diagnosis and make sure you're taking the right treatment.

90% of asbestos-exposed workers and veterans diagnosed with COPD have an underlying condition called asbestosis

During the first stage, the symptoms of asbestosis may be a slight cough or shortness of breath. You might attribute them to possibly having a cold, or seasonal allergies, feeling fatigued due to aging, or just a normal cough triggered by smoking. In this stage, the lungs are functioning at or above 80 percent of normal capacity.

As the illness progresses, symptoms will become more severe and debilitating, often interfering with normal activities. Patients may experience difficulty breathing and talking, poor blood circulation causing a blue tint in the lips and fingernails, rapid heart rate, poor mental alertness, dizziness or fainting, symptoms that may require emergency treatment.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure and you have been diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory lung disease, such as COPD, it is important that your doctor monitor your condition with regular chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests. It is also important to compare new and old radiographic films and review any other pertinent test results to check for progression of the disease.

Case study - Joel W. Montgomery, AL

I was born in the 40s and I was a regular smoker until I stopped when I was in my 60s. In 2017 I began to experience subtle symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, and chest congestion. Doctors told me that I have COPD, and somehow I knew I would go through a rough patch with this. I was slowly deteriorating. My breathing became considerably worse and began to impact my daily life. Climbing stairs became impossible and I started being dependent on my wife for support. I can only liken it to feeling like you're underwater and want to breathe, but you can't. Last year I went back to the hospital for a check-up and was told I have asbestosis. My X-ray showed a form of scarring of the outer lining of the lung which is a common manifestation of asbestos exposure.

Although now retired, my work life had included a six-year apprenticeship at the Alabama Drydock & Shipping Company back in the '70s. At that time asbestos use among shipyards was abundant.

My advice is to advocate for your own health and be prepared to question your doctors; it's not just your right, it is your responsibility. A correct diagnosis is vital because each day you go without the right treatment means a potential loss of lung function. Now my pulmonary function has reduced to about 40%, which provides its own set of new challenges, but my confidence in the medical staff, and continuing support from my family, motivates me to continue to tackle this insidious disease.

Former industrial workers and veterans with long-term exposure to asbestos face the risk of further lung damage

Because COPD can be caused by breathing in chemical fumes, dust, or toxic substances at work, and because asbestos was, at one time, widely used in a number of industries, and job sites like shipyards and industrial plants, workers who inhaled asbestos fibers could later develop COPD.

In addition to jeopardizing a patient's quality of life, a wrong diagnosis can also lead to recovering less amount of compensation than that you are entitled to because the financial compensation is mainly decided on the basis of the severity of your illness. If you have been diagnosed with COPD and have been working in industries that involved handling asbestos or asbestos products during the last century, it is important to seek specialist legal advice without delay. Former industrial workers and veterans who have developed asbestosis as a result of inhalation of asbestos fibers over protracted periods of time may also develop COPD as a complication.

If the sufferer was heavily exposed to asbestos, there is a considerable risk of COPD later developing into a form of cancer, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma. You can choose to settle your claim on a provisional basis, preserving the right to apply for more compensation if there's medical evidence that your condition has gotten significantly worse.

With a COPD diagnosis, asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs in order to be eligible for compensation

Misdiagnosis is very common among the victims of asbestos exposure as diseases caused by inhaling asbestos fibers are quite rare and medical professionals scarcely encounter such cases. For this reason, you need to be examined by multiple specialists before having a diagnosis assigned. A second and even a third opinion are crucial not only for receiving the appropriate treatment but also for recovering the maximum compensation you are eligible for.

Our team of experts will assist you in the process and make sure everything is being properly assessed to prove asbestos exposure and make the service-related link clear. This includes the examination of chest radiographs to check for pulmonary abnormalities seen in association with asbestos exposure, among other elements that will help ensure your claim is a success.

If you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos and now face a condition such as COPD, contact us immediately. Asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs in order to qualify for disability compensation from the VA and from asbestos trust funds. If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with COPD, but you also had significant asbestos exposure in the past, you will need to travel to our medical facility in Birmingham, AL so we can find the fibers in your lungs.

With over 25 years of experience in handling asbestos exposure cases, we can quickly and efficiently complete and file claims against the companies that manufactured and distributed products containing the harmful mineral and get you the compensation you rightfully deserve. Our legal experience and determination allow us to cut out delays caused by missing or incomplete information.