Posted on January 07th, 2021
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.